A Companion to Late Ancient Jews and Judaism: Third Century BCE to Seventh Century CE 1119113628, 9781119113621

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A Companion to Late Ancient Jews and Judaism: Third Century BCE to Seventh Century CE
 1119113628, 9781119113621

Table of contents :
A Companion to Late Ancient Jews and Judaism: 3rd Century BCE - 7th Century CE
List of Figures
List of Maps
Notes on Contributors
1 Introduction
Opening Section
Where Jews Live
Literatures, Languages, and Materialities
Identities and Ethnicities
Bodies and Genders
Appendix 1: An Historical Outline
Appendix 2: Further Reading
PART I: Where Jews Live
2 Where Jews Lived in the West
The Sources for Jewish Habitation—An Overview
The Quality of These Sources
What These Sources Suggest About Where Jews Lived: Some Granularity
Egypt (Outside Alexandria)
The City of Rome
Jews in Italy Outside Rome
Europe Outside Italy
Greece, the Balkan Peninsula and the North Coast of the Black Sea
Asia Minor
Mediterranean Islands
North Africa
Antioch on the Orontes and Coastal Syria
Why Jews Lived Where They Did During This Particular Thousand Years
3 Jewish Towns and Neighborhoods in Roman Palestine and Persian Babylonia
Summary of Scholarly Debate and Methodological Issues
Roman and Byzantine Palestine
Persian Babylonia
Suggestions for Future Developments
PART II: Languages and Literatures
4 Late Ancient Jewish Languages
The Literary Landscape in Judaea
The Non‐Literary Landscape in Judaea
The Diaspora
Language Ideology
5 Literature of the Jews, Fourth Century BCE to Second Century CE
Chronologies and Categories
The Challenges
Key Features
Constructing Identity
Pseudonymous Attribution
Spotlight on Key Genres and Texts
1 Enoch and Daniel: Apocalypse, Pseudepigraphy, and Expanding Collections
Jubilees and Pesharim: Ancient Figures, New Scriptures, and Genres of Interpretation
Ben Sira: Wisdom and Pedagogy
The Maccabean Revolt: History, Identity, and Edification
Philo of Alexandria: Alexandrian Philosophy and Ancestral Tradition
Early Jewish “Novels”
4Ezra and Josephus: After the Fall of Jerusalem
6 Rabbinic Literature
Tannaitic Midrash
Aggadic Midrashim
Palestinian Talmud
Babylonian Talmud
7 Material Culture of the Second Temple Period (pre-70 CE)
Terminology and Methodology
Devotional Activities
Proseuchai and Synagogues
Text and Prayer
Theology and Belief
Household/Daily Life
Marriage and Family Life
Death, Commemoration, and the Afterlife
Places in Society
Guide to Relevant Corpora and Abbreviations
8 How Do Jews Matter? Exploring Late-Ancient Mediterranean Jews and Jewishness Through Material Culture
Everyday Life
Food and Drink
Clothing and Hairstyles
Synagogues and Burials
How Does the Matter of Late‐Ancient Jews Matter?
9 Material Culture of the Jews of Sasanian Mesopotamia
Materiality of the Sasanian Environment
Incantation Bowls from Sasanian Mesopotamia
Jewish‐Sasanian Seals
10 Non-Jewish Sources for Late Ancient Jewish History
Types of Sources
Hellenistic and Roman Texts
Christian Texts
Peshitta and Syriac Christian Authors
Papyri and Inscriptions
“New” Data
Corroborative Data
Comparative Data
PART III: Identities and Ethnicities
11 Contesting Identities: The Splitting Channels from Israelite to Jew
The Heritage of Ezra
Hellenism and the Birth of “Judaism”
Sectarianism and the True Israel
Jewish Identity under Roman Imperialism
The “ekklesia” of the Torah
12 Imagining Judaism after 70 CE
Interpreting an Event
Facing a Chasm
Projecting a Catastrophe
Countering a Projection
Unanswered Questions?
Clarifying Survival
The Sects and 70 CE
Looking Ahead: Imagining Catastrophe Without Crisis
13 Rabbis and the Poor in Palestinian Amoraic Literature and the Babylonian Talmud
The Quotidian Lives of the Poor
Palestinian Amoraic Literature
The Lives of the Poor in the Babylonian Talmud
Portrayals of Rabbinic Interpersonal Interactions with the Poor
Theological Constructions of the Poor
Rabbis, Tzedakah (Charity), and the Poor
14 Diaspora and Center
Home and Away
The Temple Trade
Life During Wartime
A New Center Emerges
Exile at Home and Home in Exile
15 Jews and Their Others (New Testament)
Scholarship, Paul, and Jewish Identity
Paul’s Identit(ies) in Philippians 3
Paul’s Identit(ies) in Acts
Political Implications Concerning Identity
Philippians 3
Expulsion from Rome: Acts 18
Concluding Remarks
16 Rabbis and Their Others
Non‐rabbinic Jews (ʿamey ha‐ʾaretz)
17 What is Jewish Law? Jewish Legal Culture and Thought in Antiquity (Fifth Century BCE to Seventh Century CE)
Introduction: What Is (and Is Not) Jewish Law?
Laws and Jewish Law
Key [Quasi‐] Legal Terms and Ideas: Covenant, Torah, Halakhah, Code
(a) Covenant
(b) Torah
(c) Halakhah
(d) Code
Law as Extra‐Juridical Discourse
Legal Discourse in Cultural Context: Case Studies
(a) Confrontation: Freedom to Obey God (1 Maccabees, Josephus, Dead Sea Scrolls)
(b) Coexistence: Mimicry and (Apolitical) Resistance: Rabbinic Halakhah
(c) Translation: Hellenism and the Law (Aristeas and Philo)
18 Arabian Judaism at the Advent of Islam: A Forgotten Chapter in the History of Judaism
Arabian Jews in the Historiographical Tradition
Ḥijāzī Jews
Ḥimyarite Jews
Arabian Jews and the Question of Jewish Identity
PART IV: Bodies and Genders
19 Sexualities and Il/licit Relationships in Late Ancient Jewish Literatures
The Hebrew Bible
Pseudepigrapha and Other Early Jewish Texts
Early Tannaitic Texts
20 Embodied Scriptural Practice
The Shema and Ritual
Enacting the Instruction Verses as Embodied Ritual
Ritualizing “These Words”
Philo: “These Words” as “The Rules of Justice”
Josephus: Words Publicize God’s Beneficence
Material Evidence for “These Words”
Limiting the Scope of “These Words”
The Emergence of the Rabbinic Shema
Shema and Tefillin as an Embodied Internalization of Scripture
Halakhic Repercussions
21 Bodies That Matter: Piety and Sin
Rabbinic Concepts of Valuation
Bodies That Sin
One or Two Bodies?
Between Arakhin and Sanhedrin
22 Rabbinic Gender: Beyond Male and Female
Expanding the Field of Gender: Tannaitic Midrashim
Expanding the Field: Mishnah and Tosefta
Figuring (Away) the Tumtum and Androginos Person
23 Disability Studies in Jewish Culture in Late Antiquity: Gender, Body, and Violence Amidst Empire
Conceptualizing Disability in Rabbinic Literature
Idolatry, Disability, and the Divine Body
Is God a Clever Crip? Divine Disability and the Limits of Justice
Beyond the Diagnosable Body: Disability and Roman Imperium
State Violence and the Brutalized Body: Race, Disability Studies, and Rabbinic Flesh
“Women are Lightminded”: Gender and the Production of Impairment
“Alas That I See You So”: Contesting the Narrative of the Tragic Disabled Body
24 Gender, Sex, and Witchcraft in Late Ancient Judaism
Changing Definitions of Magic and Witchcraft
Rabbis, Women, and Witches
That Tannaitic Magic
The Bewitched and Bothered Rabbis of the Palestinian Talmud
Every Little Thing She Does in the Babylonian Talmud Is Magic
You Can Do Magic: Women, Witchcraft, and the Reality of Everyday Life in Babylonia
Strange Magic
PART V: Spaces
25 Domestic Spaces
Religious Identity
Living and Making a Living
Evidence for Domestic Space
Socio‐Economic Factors
Wealthy/Elite Houses
Urban Merchants
Urban Poor
Rural Poor
Asia Minor
Rome and Environs
Interior Decorating
Literary Representations of the Home
Joseph and Aseneth
Religion and Domestic Space
26 “Do Not Say ‘I am Poor and Cannot Seek Out Knowledge’”: The House of Study and Education in the Second Temple Period
Background to the Chapter
The Persian Period (538–332 BCE)
The Hellenistic Period (332 BCE–63 BCE)
Intellectual Centers: The First Half (332 BCE–175 BCE)
Intellectual Centers: The Second Half (175 BCE–63 BCE)
Houses of Instruction
The Roman Period
27 Locating Diaspora Jewish Philanthropy in the Ancient Mediterranean Public Arena
Civic Allegiance
Philanthropy as Apologia
28 Sacred Spaces
Jerusalem and its Temple
Competing Conceptions of the Temple as a Sacred Space
Coins as Visual Depictions of Jerusalem’s Sacredness
Post‐Destruction Jewish Literature about Jerusalem’s Sacredness
Synagogues and Shrines
Ritual Spaces as Sacred Spaces
Off‐Limits: Forbidden Sacred Spaces
Creating Sacred Spaces in Transit
29 Jewish Prayer, Liturgy, and Ritual
Terms and Nomenclature
Boundaries of Time and Space
Texts and Contexts
Large Scale Space
Public and Communal Space
Domestic Space
Conceptual Space
Embodied Space
30 Agriculture and Industry
An Example of Rabbinic Difference: Pe’ah
Interlude: Teach Your Son a Trade
Olive Oil
Trades and Crafts
Final Thoughts

Citation preview


BLACKWELL COMPANIONS TO THE ANCIENT WORLD This series provides sophisticated and authoritative overviews of periods of ancient history, genres of classical literature, and the most important themes in ancient culture. Each volume comprises approximately twenty‐five to forty concise essays written by individual scholars within their area of specialization. The essays are written in a clear, provocative, and lively manner, designed for an international audience of scholars, students, and general readers. A Companion to the Roman Army Edited by Paul Erdkamp A Companion to the Roman Republic Edited by Nathan Rosenstein and Robert Morstein‐Marx A Companion to the Roman Empire Edited by David S. Potter A Companion to the Classical Greek World Edited by Konrad H. Kinzl A Companion to the Ancient Near East Edited by Daniel C. Snell A Companion to the Hellenistic World Edited by Andrew Erskine A Companion to Late Antiquity Edited by Philip Rousseau A Companion to Ancient History Edited by Andrew Erskine A Companion to Archaic Greece Edited by Kurt A. Raaflaub and Hans van Wees A Companion to Julius Caesar Edited by Miriam Griffin A Companion to Byzantium Edited by Liz James A Companion to Ancient Egypt Edited by Alan B. Lloyd A Companion to Ancient Macedonia Edited by Joseph Roisman and Ian Worthington A Companion to the Punic Wars Edited by Dexter Hoyos A Companion to Augustine Edited by Mark Vessey A Companion to Marcus Aurelius Edited by Marcel van Ackeren A Companion to Ancient Greek Government Edited by Hans Beck A Companion to the Neronian Age Edited by Emma Buckley and Martin T. Dinter A Companion to Greek Democracy and the Roman Republic Edited by Dean Hammer A Companion to Livy Edited by Bernard Mineo A Companion to Ancient Thrace Edited by Julia Valeva, Emil Nankov, and Denver Graninger

A Companion to Roman Italy Edited by Alison E. Cooley A Companion to the Etruscans Edited by Sinclair Bell and Alexandra A. Carpino A Companion to the Flavian Age of Imperial Rome Edited by Andrew Zissos A Companion to Science, Technology, and Medicine in Ancient Greece and Rome Edited by Georgia L. Irby A Companion to Sparta Edited by Anton Powell A Companion to Classical Athens Edited by Sara Forsdyke A Companion to Ancient Agriculture Edited by David Hollander and Timothy Howe A Companion to Ancient Phoenicia Edited by Mark Woolmer A Companion to Roman Politics Edited by Valentina Arena and Jonathan R.W. Prag A Companion to the Archaeology of the Roman Empire Edited by Barbara Burrell A Companion to the City of Rome Edited by Amanda Claridge and Claire Holleran A Companion to Greeks Across the Ancient World Edited by Franco De Angelis A Companion to Rome and Persia, 96 bce–651 ce Edited by Peter Edwell A Companion to Assyria Edited by Eckart Frahm A Companion to North Africa in Antiquity Edited by Bruce Hitchner A Companion to the Achaemenid Persian Empire Edited by Bruno Jacobs and Robert Rollinger A Companion to the Hellenistic and Roman Near East Edited by Ted Kaizer A Companion to the Archaeology of Early Greece and the Mediterranean Edited by Irene S. Lemos and Antonios Kotsonas A Companion to Euripides Edited by Robin Mitchell‐Boyask A Companion to Greco‐Roman and Late Antique Egypt Edited by Katelijn Vandorpe A Companion to the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt Edited by Josef W. Wegner

LITERATURE AND CULTURE Published A Companion to Classical Receptions Edited by Lorna Hardwick and Christopher Stray A Companion to Greek and Roman Historiography Edited by John Marincola A Companion to Catullus Edited by Marilyn B. Skinner A Companion to Roman Religion Edited by Jörg Rüpke A Companion to Greek Religion Edited by Daniel Ogden A Companion to the Classical Tradition Edited by Craig W. Kallendorf A Companion to Roman Rhetoric Edited by William Dominik and Jon Hall A Companion to Greek Rhetoric Edited by Ian Worthington A Companion to Ancient Epic Edited by John Miles Foley

A Companion to Greek Tragedy Edited by Justina Gregory A Companion to Latin Literature Edited by Stephen Harrison A Companion to Greek and Roman Political Thought Edited by Ryan K. Balot A Companion to Ovid Edited by Peter E. Knox A Companion to the Ancient Greek Language Edited by Egbert Bakker A Companion to Hellenistic Literature Edited by Martine Cuypers and James J. Clauss A Companion to Vergil’s Aeneid and Its Tradition Edited by Joseph Farrell and Michael C.J. Putnam A Companion to Horace Edited by Gregson Davis A Companion to Families in the Greek and Roman Worlds Edited by Beryl Rawson

A Companion to Greek Mythology Edited by Ken Dowden and Niall Livingstone A Companion to the Latin Language Edited by James Clackson A Companion to Tacitus Edited by Victoria Emma Pagán A Companion to Women in the Ancient World Edited by Sharon L. James and Sheila Dillon A Companion to Sophocles Edited by Kirk Ormand A Companion to the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East Edited by Daniel Potts A Companion to Roman Love Elegy Edited by Barbara K. Gold A Companion to Greek Art Edited by Tyler Jo Smith and Dimitris Plantzos A Companion to Persius and Juvenal Edited by Susanna Braund and Josiah Osgood A Companion to the Archaeology of the Roman Republic Edited by Jane DeRose Evans A Companion to Terence Edited by Antony Augoustakis and Ariana Traill A Companion to Roman Architecture Edited by Roger B. Ulrich and Caroline K. Quenemoen A Companion to Sport and Spectacle in Greek and Roman Antiquity Edited by Paul Christesen and Donald G. Kyle A Companion to Plutarch Edited by Mark Beck A Companion to Greek and Roman Sexualities Edited by Thomas K. Hubbard A Companion to the Ancient Novel Edited by Edmund P. Cueva and Shannon N. Byrne A Companion to Ethnicity in the Ancient Mediterranean Edited by Jeremy McInerney A Companion to Ancient Egyptian Art Edited by Melinda Hartwig A Companion to the Archaeology of Religion in the Ancient World Edited by Rubina Raja and Jörg Rüpke

A Companion to Food in the Ancient World Edited by John Wilkins and Robin Nadeau A Companion to Ancient Education Edited by W. Martin Bloomer A Companion to Ancient Aesthetics Edited by Pierre Destrée and Penelope Murray A Companion to Roman Art Edited by Barbara Borg A Companion to Greek Literature Edited by Martin Hose and David Schenker A Companion to Josephus in His World Edited by Honora Howell Chapman and Zuleika Rodgers A Companion to Aeschylus Edited by Peter Burian A Companion to Plautus Edited by Dorota Dutsch and George Fredric Franko A Companion to Ancient Epigram Edited by Christer Henriksén A Companion to Religion in Late Antiquity Edited by Josef Lössl and Nicholas Baker‐Brian A Companion to Ancient Greece and Rome on Screen Edited by Arthur J. Pomeroy A Companion to Late Antique Literature Edited by Scott McGill and Edward Watts A Companion to Ancient Egyptian Religion Edited by Martin Bommas A Companion to Classical Studies Edited by Kai Broderson A Companion to Latin Epic, ca. 14–96 ce Edited by Lee Fratantuono and Caroline Stark A Companion to Ancient Near Eastern Art Edited by Ann C. Gunter A Companion to Aegean Art and Architecture Edited by Louise A. Hitchcock A Companion to Ancient History in Popular Culture Edited by Llyod Llewellyn‐Jones A Companion to Late Ancient Jews and Judaism: Third Century bce to Seventh Century ce Edited by Naomi Koltun‐Fromm and Gwynn Kessler


Naomi Koltun‐Fromm and Gwynn Kessler

This edition first published 2020 © 2020 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, except as permitted by law. Advice on how to obtain permission to reuse material from this title is available at http://www.wiley.com/go/permissions. The right of Naomi Koltun‐Fromm and Gwynn Kessler to be identified as the authors of the editorial material in this work has been asserted in accordance with law. Registered Office John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 111 River Street, Hoboken, NJ 07030, USA Editorial Office 111 River Street, Hoboken, NJ 07030, USA For details of our global editorial offices, customer services, and more information about Wiley products visit us at www.wiley.com. Wiley also publishes its books in a variety of electronic formats and by print‐on‐demand. Some content that appears in standard print versions of this book may not be available in other formats. Limit of Liability/Disclaimer of Warranty While the publisher and authors have used their best efforts in preparing this work, they make no representations or warranties with respect to the accuracy or completeness of the contents of this work and specifically disclaim all warranties, including without limitation any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose. No warranty may be created or extended by sales representatives, written sales materials or promotional statements for this work. The fact that an organization, website, or product is referred to in this work as a citation and/or potential source of further information does not mean that the publisher and authors endorse the information or services the organization, website, or product may provide or recommendations it may make. This work is sold with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering professional services. The advice and strategies contained herein may not be suitable for your situation. You should consult with a specialist where appropriate. Further, readers should be aware that websites listed in this work may have changed or disappeared between when this work was written and when it is read. Neither the publisher nor authors shall be liable for any loss of profit or any other commercial damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential, or other damages. Library of Congress Cataloging‐in‐Publication Data Names: Koltun-Fromm, Naomi, 1964– editor. |Kessler, Gwynn, editor. Title: A Companion to late ancient Jews and Judaism : Third century bce –   Seventh century ce / edited by Naomi Koltun-Fromm and Gwynn Kessler Description: First edition. | Hoboken : Wiley, 2020. | Series: Blackwell   companions to the ancient world | Includes bibliographical references   and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2019048775 (print) | LCCN 2019048776 (ebook) | ISBN   9781119113621 (hardback) | ISBN 9781119113652 (adobe pdf) | ISBN   9781119113973 (epub) Subjects: LCSH: Judaism–History–Post-exilic period, 586 B.C.-210 A.D. |   Judaism–History–Talmudic period, 10-425. | Judaism–History–Medieval   and early modern period, 425-1789. | Jews–History–586 B.C.-70 A.D. |   Jews–History–70-638. | Rabbinical literature–History and criticism. Classification: LCC BM176 .C65 2020 (print) | LCC BM176 (ebook) | DDC  296.09/014–dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2019048775 LC ebook record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2019048776 Cover Design: Wiley Cover Image: © IAISI/Getty Images Set in 10/12.5pt Galliard by SPi Global, Pondicherry, India Printed in the United States of America 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1


List of Figures xi List of Maps xiii Notes on Contributors xv Acknowledgmentsxix Mapsxxi 1 Introduction Naomi Koltun-Fromm and Gwynn Kessler


PART I  Where Jews Live



Where Jews Lived in the West Ross S. Kraemer



Jewish Towns and Neighborhoods in Roman Palestine and Persian Babylonia Mika Ahuvia


PART II  Languages and Literatures



Late Ancient Jewish Languages Azzan Yadin-Israel



Literature of the Jews, Fourth Century bce to Second Century ce69 Eva Mroczek


Rabbinic Literature Michal Bar-Asher Siegal


Material Culture of the Second Temple Period (pre-70 ce)105 Karen B. Stern


How Do Jews Matter? Exploring Late-Ancient Mediterranean Jews and Jewishness Through Material Culture Cynthia M. Baker



viii Contents   9

Material Culture of the Jews of Sasanian Mesopotamia Jason Sion Mokhtarian



Non-Jewish Sources for Late Ancient Jewish History Naomi Koltun-Fromm


PART III  Identities and Ethnicities



Contesting Identities: The Splitting Channels from Israelite to Jew Yair Furstenberg



Imagining Judaism after 70 ce201 Jonathan Klawans


Rabbis and the Poor in Palestinian Amoraic Literature and the Babylonian Talmud Alyssa M. Gray



Diaspora and Center Joshua Ezra Burns



Jews and Their Others (New Testament) Sandy L. Haney



Rabbis and Their Others Mira Beth Wasserman



What is Jewish Law? Jewish Legal Culture and Thought in Antiquity (Fifth Century bce to Seventh Century ce)277 Natalie B. Dohrmann


Arabian Judaism at the Advent of Islam: A Forgotten Chapter in the History of Judaism Aaron W. Hughes


PART IV  Bodies and Genders



Sexualities and Il/licit Relationships in Late Ancient Jewish Literatures Federico Dal Bo



Embodied Scriptural Practice Elizabeth Shanks Alexander



Bodies That Matter: Piety and Sin Jane L. Kanarek



Rabbinic Gender: Beyond Male and Female Gwynn Kessler


Contents ix 23


Disability Studies in Jewish Culture in Late Antiquity: Gender, Body, and Violence Amidst Empire Julia Watts Belser Gender, Sex, and Witchcraft in Late Ancient Judaism Sara Ronis

371 391

PART V  Spaces



Domestic Spaces Meredith J.C. Warren



“Do Not Say ‘I am Poor and Cannot Seek Out Knowledge’”: The House of Study and Education in the Second Temple Period Cana Werman


Locating Diaspora Jewish Philanthropy in the Ancient Mediterranean Public Arena Shira L. Lander




Sacred Spaces Sarit Kattan Gribetz



Jewish Prayer, Liturgy, and Ritual Laura S. Lieber



Agriculture and Industry John Mandsager



List of Figures

3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 9.6 14.1 14.2 25.1 25.2 25.3

Overview of Beit Shean. Map of Qasrin. Ein Gedi, reconstruction of the town. Dura-Europos Synagogue, west wall. Grafiti of Menorah and Showbread Table.  Interior panel, arch of Titus, Rome. Entrance to a miqveh in Jerusalem. Courtyard of Jason’s Tomb, Rechavia, Jerusalem. Tomb in Sanhedria, Jerusalem. Donor (?) mosaic from the c. fifth century ce Huqoq synagogue. Spring (Nisan) from the Sepphoris synagogue mosaic floor. Sixth century ce Beit Alpha synagogue mosaic floor. Gold glass from Rome, c. fourth century ce.  Canals and archaeological sites in Mesopotamia. Sasanian coin of Ardashir, from Ctesiphon. Arch of Khosrow and palace facade. Fettered demon on bowl. Incantation bowl. Jewish‐Sasanian seal of Isaac son of Papa. Torah ark in the Ostia synagogue. A Greek inscription from Beit She’arim. Public latrines at Ostia. A row of insulae at Ostia. Fresco, first century bce, villa of the Farnesina; Palazzo Massimo, Rome. 25.4 Detail of fresco, first century bce, villa of the Farnesina; Palazzo Massimo, Rome. 25.5 Fourth–fifth century ce oil lamp from Rome decorated with a five‐branched lamp on display at the Museum of the Imperial Fora, Rome. 27.1 Honorific gold crown from the Metropolitan Museum.

38 39 41 46 111 112 117 120 120 131 132 136 137 147 149 150 154 155 159 230 239 409 416 417 418 418 444

xii 27.2 27.3 28.1 28.2 28.3 28.4 28.5 29.1 29.2 30.1

List of Figures Aphrodisias donor stele. 447 Sardis synagogue forecourt pavement board for the game rota.449 Judaean quarter shekel from the first revolt, 69–70 ce.460 Judaea Capta Sestertius, issued by Vespasian, 71 ce.460 Sela/Tetradrachm, issued by Bar Kokhba, 134–135 ce.461 Aelia Capitolina coin, depicting Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus, 161–169 ce.462 Gold Solidus of Tiberius II, minted in Constantinople, 578–582 ce.462 The Baram synagogue ruins. 484 The mosaic floor of the Hammat Tiberius synagogue. 485 Olive press from Capernaum. 503

List of Maps

1 Jewish settlement in the western Mediterranean c. third century bce to seventh century ce 2 Jewish settlement in the eastern Mediterranean and western Asia c. third century bce to seventh century ce 3 Jewish settlement in the Middle East c. third century bce to seventh century ce 4 Jewish settlement in Judaea/Palaestine and surrounding territories c. third century bce to seventh century ce

Notes on Contributors

Mika Ahuvia is the Marsha and Jay Glazer Endowed Chair in Jewish Studies and Assistant Professor of Classical Judaism at the Stroum Center for Jewish Studies in the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington. Her forthcoming book, Angels in Late Antique Judaism, analyzes conceptions of angels among ancient Jews. She co-edited the volume Placing Ancient Texts: the Rhetorical and Ritual Use of Space (Mohr Siebeck, 2018) and has published book chapters and articles on ancient ritualmagic, gender and rabbinic literature, and late antique archaeology, among other areas of interest. Elizabeth Shanks Alexander is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia, where she has taught since 2000. She previously taught at Haverford College and Smith College. In addition to publishing numerous scholarly articles, she is the author of Gender and Timebound Commandments in Judaism (Cambridge University Press, 2013) and Transmitting Mishnah: The Shaping Influence of Oral Tradition (Cambridge 2006). Most recently, she served as co‐editor of Religious Studies and Rabbinics: A Conversation (Routlege, 2018).

Cynthia M. Baker is Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Bates College. Her research explores the ancient history and modern historiography of Jews and Jewishness. She is the author of Rebuilding the House of Israel: Architectures of Gender in Jewish Antiquity (Stanford University Press, 2002) and of Jew in the Key Words in Jewish Studies series from Rutgers University Press (2016). Michal Bar‐Asher Siegal is Associate Professor in The Goldstein‐Goren Depart­ ment of Jewish Thought at the Ben‐Gurion University of the Negev, and an elected member of the Israel Young Academy of Sciences. She is a rabbinics scholar and her work focuses on aspects of Jewish–Christian interactions in the ancient world, especially in literary interactions found in the Babylonian Talmud. She is the author of Early Christian Monastic Literature and the Babylonian Talmud (Cambridge University Press, 2013) and Jewish–Christian Dialogues on Scripture in Late Antiquity: Heretic Narratives of the Babylonian Talmud (Cambridge University Press, 2019). Julia Watts Belser is an Associate Professor of Jewish Studies in the Theology Department at Georgetown University,


Notes on Contributors

with expertise in rabbinic literature and Jewish feminist ethics, with a focus on gender, sexuality, and disability studies. She is the author of Power, Ethics, and Ecology in Jewish Late Antiquity: Rabbinic Responses to Drought and Disaster (Cambridge University Press, 2015) and Rabbinic Tales of Destruction: Gender, Sex, and Disability in the Ruins of Jerusalem (Oxford University Press, 2017). Joshua Ezra Burns is Associate Dean for academic affairs in the Klingler College of Arts and Sciences and Associate Professor of Judaism and Christianity in Antiquity in the Department of Theology at Marquette University. He is the author of The Christian Schism in Jewish History and Jewish Memory (Cambridge University Press, 2016). Federico Dal Bo holds a PhD in Translation Studies (2005, University of Bologna) and a PhD in Jewish Studies (2009, Free University of Berlin). He has worked as a Research Assistant at the University of Bologna and the Free University of Berlin. He is currently a Marie Curie post‐doctoral fellow at the Autonomous University of Barcelona in the international project “The Latin Talmud.” Personal website: http:// www.federicodalbo.eu/. Natalie B. Dohrmann is the Associate Director of the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, where she also teaches in the departments of History, Classics, and Religious Studies. She has published widely on rabbinic legal culture in the Roman East, and has most recently coedited a volume with Katell Berthelot and Capucine NemoPekelman titled Legal Engagement: The Reception of Roman Tribunals and Law by Jews and Other Provincials of the Roman Empire (Paris, forthcoming).

Yair Furstenberg teaches in the Department of Talmud and Halakha at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. His research interests include evolution of rabbinic movement, early rabbinic literature, composition of the Mishnah, Halakhah during the Second Temple period, the rabbis, and the Greco‐Roman world. Alyssa M. Gray is the Emily S. and Rabbi Bernard H. Mehlman Chair in Rabbinics and Professor of Codes and Responsa Literature at Hebrew Union College– Jewish Institute of Religion. She is the author of A Talmud in Exile: The Influence of Yerushalmi Avodah Zarah on the Formation of Bavli Avodah Zarah (2005) and numerous shorter studies in late antique and medieval rabbinic literature. Sarit Kattan Gribetz is Assistant Professor of Classical Judaism in the Theology Department at Fordham University. She works on Second Temple and rabbinic literature, the history of time, gender and sexuality, and Jewish-Christian polemics. Her first book is titled Time and Difference in Rabbinic Judaism (Princeton University Press). She is currently working on her second book, Jerusalem: A Feminist History. Sandy L. Haney received her PhD from Temple University in 2014. An independent scholar, her research focuses on the social history of ancient Christianity, particularly issues related to family, marriage, and celibacy. Aaron W. Hughes is the Philip S. Bernstein Professor of Jewish Studies in the Department of Religion and Classics at the University of Rochester. Jane L. Kanarek is Associate Professor of Rabbinics at Hebrew College. She is the

Notes on Contributors

author of Biblical Narrative and the Formation of Rabbinic Law (Cambridge University Press, 2014). She is co-editor of Learning to Read Talmud: What It Looks Like and How It Happens (Academic Studies Press, 2016) and Mothers in the Jewish Cultural Imagination (The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2017). Gwynn Kessler is an Associate Professor in the Religion Department at Swarthmore College. She has also chaired the Gender and Sexuality Studies Program at Swarthmore and is currently the Chair of Interdisciplinary Programs. She is author of Conceiving Israel: The Fetus in Rabbinic Narratives (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009) and is currently working on her second monograph, The Crooked and the Straight: Queer Theory and Rabbinic Literature. Jonathan Klawans is Professor of Religion at Boston University. His most recent book is Heresy, Forgery, Novelty: Condemning, Denying, and Asserting Innovation in Ancient Judaism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019). He is also co-editor (with Lawrence M. Wills) of the forthcoming Jewish Annotated Apocrypha (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020). Naomi Koltun‐Fromm is Associate Pro­ fessor of Religion at Haverford College. She specializes in late ancient intellectual and social Jewish and early Christian histories, particularly where the two intersect in polemical and comparative theological discourse. Ross S. Kraemer is Professor Emerita of Religious Studies and Judaic Studies and specializes in early Christianity and other religions of the Greco‐Roman Mediterranean, including early Judaism. She is most recently the author of The Mediterranean Diaspora in


Late Antiquity: What Christianity Cost the Jews (Oxford University Press, 2020). Shira L. Lander is the founding director of Jewish Studies at Southern Methodist University, where she holds a faculty position in the Religious Studies Department. She is the author of Ritual Sites and Religious Rivalries in Late Roman North Africa (Cambridge, 2017). Laura S. Lieber is Professor of Religious Studies at Duke University, Smart Family Director of the Duke Center for Jewish Studies, and director of the Elizabeth A. Clark Center for Late Ancient Studies; she holds secondary appointments in Classics and at the Duke Divinity School. Her most recent monograph is Jewish Aramaic Poetry from Late Antiquity (Brill, 2018). Her current research focuses on performance and theatricality in Late Antiquity. John Mandsager is an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies and Jewish Studies at the University of South Carolina. He received his PhD from Stanford University in 2014. His research focuses on early rabbinic approaches to agricultural space, the interplay between rabbinic interpretation of biblical law and the practice of agriculture, as well as the visual aspects of Jewish ritual practice. Jason Sion Mokhtarian is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University, Bloomington, and author of the book Rabbis, Sorcerers, Kings, and Priests: The Culture of the Talmud in Ancient Iran (University of California Press, 2015). He has also published articles on the topic of the Sasanian context of the Talmud in various journals such as the Jewish Studies Quarterly, Harvard Theological Review, and Iranian Studies.


Notes on Contributors

Eva Mroczek is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of California, Davis. She studies the literary cultures of early Judaism, including the Hebrew Bible, Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, and Dead Sea Scrolls, and their place in modern intellectual history. Her first book, The Literary Imagination in Jewish Antiquity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), discusses how early Jewish writers imagined their own sacred writing before the Bible existed as a book and a concept. Sara Ronis is Assistant Professor of Theology at St. Mary’s University, Texas. Her interests include the Talmud in its Sasanian context, rabbinic hermeneutics and jurisprudence, gender and sexuality, and demons, magic, and non‐normative rituals. Karen B. Stern is Associate Professor of History at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. Her research ­considers the material culture of Jews and their neighbors throughout the ancient Mediterranean. She is the author of Inscribing Devotion and Death: Archaeological Evidence for Jewish Populations in North Africa (Brill, 2008) and of Writing on the Wall: Graffiti and the Forgotten Jews of Antiquity (Princeton University Press, 2018). Meredith J.C. Warren is Senior Lecturer in Biblical and Religious Studies at the University of Sheffield. Her primary research interests lie in the cultural and theological interactions among the religions of

ancient Mediterranean, especially early Judaism and Christianity. In particular, Warren is interested in how shared cultural understandings of food and eating play a  role in ancient narratives, including the  Pseudepigrapha, Hellenistic romance novels, and the Gospels. Mira Beth Wasserman is Assistant Professor of Rabbinic Literature and Director of the Center for Jewish Ethics at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Wyncote, Pennsylvania. She is the author of Jews, Gentiles, and Other Animals: The Talmud after the Humanities. Cana Werman is a Professor in the department of Jewish History at the Ben‐Gurion University of the Negev. Her fields of research: Second Temple history, Second Temple literature, the development of Halakha, Messianic and Eschatological expectations. Azzan Yadin‐Israel is a professor in the departments of Jewish Studies and Classics at Rutgers University. He earned his BA from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley and the Graduate Theological Union. He has written extensively on rabbinic, biblical, and early Christian sources. He has published two monographs on early rabbinic biblical interpretation. His latest book is The Grace of God and the Grace of Man: The Theologies of Bruce Springsteen.


We would like to thank the editors at Wiley‐Blackwell for their patience as we slowly pulled this volume together. We thank our students, Emily Chazen, David King and Matan Arad-Neeman, who assisted at various stages along the way. We wish to acknowledge the expert work Gordon Thompson brought to our maps. Finally, we especially want to thank our contributors who are the core of this project and who make us so proud to be your editors and collaborators. We dedicate this volume to Tobias Ezekiel and Isaiah Samuel, our children, who became classmates and b’nai mitzvah together while this volume neared completion.


1. Jewish settlement in the western Mediterranean c. third century bce to seventh century ce

2. Jewish settlement in the eastern Mediterranean and western Asia c. third century bce to seventh century ce

3. Jewish settlement in the Middle East c. third century bce to seventh century ce

4. Jewish settlement in Judaea/Palaestina and surrounding territories c. third century bce to seventh century ce


Introduction Naomi Koltun‐Fromm and Gwynn Kessler

Opening Section Several years ago, a Blackwell section editor contacted us and asked would we be interested in editing a Companion Volume on Greco‐Roman Jewish history? Our immediate reaction was: Why? Do we really need another volume on Greco‐Roman Jews? We eventually countered back with an offer to write, or co‐edit, a different sort of volume, one we thought we did not yet have: a volume focused on Jews and Judaism in all of Late Antiquity that tried to re‐chart the usual geographic and chronological borders established by modern scholarly norms. Our hope in this endeavor was to provide a wider angled view of Jews and Judaism over a larger swath of time and geographic expanse. If there is anything we have learned over the last two decades of situating ourselves within Late Antiquity, rather than Rabbinic, Babylonian, Second Temple, Hellenistic, or Greco‐Roman Jewish culture and history, it is to see ourselves as scholars of a broader subject area in its multiplicity and diversity as well as in its commonalities and similarities over a larger geographic and chronological landscape. Moreover, this scholarly re‐situating has laid bare the importance of approaches that zero in and those that zoom out and that bring together “telescopic” and “wide-angle” lenses. Together, these approaches allow us to better see both the particularities of any given time and place as well as the moving dynamics of many different communities of Jews and Judaism within the multiple contexts of place, majority culture, and history, without reducing Jews or Judaism to singular, static categories. Situating this volume and its scholarship within Late Antiquity allows us to rethink how we study and categorize things Jewish over this 1000‐year period across ancient geopolitical boundaries that we have in the past used as guides to subdivide our studies. Hence, we have tried as

A Companion to Late Ancient Jews and Judaism: Third Century bce to Seventh Century ce, First Edition. Edited by Naomi Koltun-Fromm and Gwynn Kessler. © 2020 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published 2020 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


Naomi Koltun‐Fromm and Gwynn Kessler

much as possible not to predetermine essays by historical or geographic or chronological categories such as “Second Temple,” “Greco‐Roman,” or “rabbinic.” Thus, we chose to focus our lens rather wide: Jews/Judaeans and Judaisms from the third century bce through the seventh century ce, chronologically, and across most of the geographic places where Jews or Judaeans were known to have lived in this period, encompassing the western most reaches of the Mediterranean to Mesopotamia, North Africa, Ethiopia, and Arabia. Moreover, we decided to seek out thematic essays that could in and of themselves discuss and analyze questions, issues, texts, and materials from across these same boundaries. That said, we are most often trained as scholars within more restricted boundaries and do not feel we have the skills or knowledge to be more expansive. Hence a volume of this sort is only a first step in that direction for many of us. To try to see and describe the bigger picture is in no way to minimize the necessary work that is more narrowly focused, because without the fine‐tuned detailed work on every single tile, the larger mosaic cannot be pieced together. Nevertheless, this volume hopes to illuminate the larger mosaic of where Jews/Judaeans lived, thrived, and created meaning across the late ancient Mediterranean world. In a volume that seeks to cover such a vast geographical and chronological terrain and scope, certain terminology that is commonly used should be explained—“Late Antiquity,” for starters. In Western focused scholarship, Late Antiquity has been used as an amorphous bridge time, somewhere between Classical Antiquity and the Medieval period; in other words, it is a period remarkable only as the transformative moment from the former to the latter. Over the last few decades, however, Late Antiquity has transformed into its own field of study and time period. However, when does it begin and when does it end? The answer to that question often depends on the where and who as much as on the when. For our purposes we chose the end of the 300s bce as a starting point, for it was the time of rising Hellenization, both culturally and politically, that confronts and challenges the peoples living in and claiming ethnic commonality with Judaea around the Mediterranean basin and creates a moment of interesting synergy, resistance, and reformulation among these peoples—themselves never a clear unity. However, we do not pinpoint a particular date, such as the reign of Alexander the Great (d. 323 bce) or the rise of the Seleucid Empire (c. 312 bce), in order to allow for more fluidity among our scholarly essays. Determining the end of Late Antiquity also remains a moving target. In the West, scholars often point to the sack of Rome specifically, in 410 ce, or more generally to the breakup of the western Roman empire, as the end of Antiquity, if not Late Antiquity. However, in the East, the Byzantine and Persian Empires continued apace into the ­seventh century. Jewish peoples lived in all these empires in all these time periods. Some modern scholarship tends to use the rise of Islam as an easy break‐off point, the last gasp of Late Antiquity before the Middle Ages. Yet, this very liminal moment is also coming into sharper focus now as many scholars try to bridge even that divide, particularly between Late Antiquity and early Islam in order to see not a break as much as a continuity between the two, over (and under) that arbitrarily assigned scholarly divide of the Arab conquest. Nevertheless, we had to end somewhere; thus we chose to stretch into the seventh century, if not incorporating it as fully as we might have desired. However, the idea of fuzzy borders remains integral to this project. We wish to push beyond and over the normative



geographic, political, and chronological scholarly field boundaries as we study these p ­ eople and communities that we have come to know as “Jews” and “Jewish,” as well as their ways of making meaning, living in this world and expressing themselves, which we have come to call “Judaism.” Another term that must be explored is the very term “Jew,” the common name, in English, for the people here under study. Much has been written in recent years on when this term came into use, and what other terminology we scholars should use to demarcate the various “Jewish” communities we study, especially since they themselves did not ­commonly use this term (see Chapter 11). We have asked our scholars to be reflexive and critical about the terminology they choose to use and to provide at least some brief explanation as to why. There remains no scholarly consensus on best practices here; thus in this volume we will find Israelites and Judaeans, Hebrews and the people of Israel, as much as Jews, or even, at times, Christians under the umbrella term “Late Antique Jew.” Similarly, the same questions permeate the anachronistic term “Judaism.” There was no one monolithic thing (Faith? Religion? Cult? Culture?) that we can call Judaism that applies to all manifestations of Jewish practice, text, or materials across this geographical and chronological period. Thus, many of this volume’s essayists refer to “Judaisms,” or various manifestations of Judaism. It is not our purpose to sum up an essence of Late Antique Judaism, nor to profile the late antique Jew, nor to lay out a one‐dimensional relationship between “Jew” and “Judaism” in this period. Rather, by design we insist on the multiple and various manifestations of Jews, Jewish community, and expressions of Judaism, as well as Jewishness, some of which will eventually be called “gnosticism” or “Christianity” or even “Islam.” It is precisely by paying attention, and querying, the nomenclature of the specific text or material evidence in front of us that we can extract new meaning, not by superimposing our own assumptions. That the rabbis rarely refer to themselves as Jews/yehudim, but rather prefer Israel/bene yisrael, should catch our attention. That Paul never refers to himself or his intended audiences as Christians should also arrest our prior assumptions. That the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls never refer to themselves as Essenes should raise issues about why we favor Philo or Josephus’ terminology over the language of the texts themselves. Yet, in attempting to bring together a volume of this sort, for convenience sake, or lack of better all‐encompassing terminology, we refer to our subjects as “Jews” and “Judaism,” even in the volume’s title and this introduction. Nevertheless, we hope to highlight the varieties, in name, deed, and material remains, with each and every essay. Our approach was not to outline a political, social, or religious history of Jews or Judaism in Late Antiquity, but rather to provide a view into that larger subject through thematized essays that are more beholden to other scholarly endeavors in cultural, ethnic, or area studies. The themes we chose are close to our own interests as two subjective scholars, and do not in any way cover the field; they only demonstrate the possibilities and richness. One volume could never do the larger subject justice. We have instead tried to gather new, innovative scholarship that we hope will provoke further conversation and interest among scholars and student‐readers alike. To that end we purposefully sought out younger scholars working in newer fields and approaches or other scholars revisiting older material through newer academic inquiries. Moreover, as individual and autonomous scholars, we recognize that we do not necessarily agree with each other on all things. How


Naomi Koltun‐Fromm and Gwynn Kessler

we read or interpret the material or texts at hand depends on many factors, including training, inclination, and inspiration. Thus, we hope to provoke further conversation among ourselves as well! Diversity of scholarly opinion can only spur us further to create and uncover more knowledge in this ever‐expanding field. While we do not present this volume as a full political, social, or religious history of Jews or Judaism in Late Antiquity, we recognize that it would remain interesting and useful to some readers to have an outline of major events in this time period. An outline with major events is appended to this introduction. In addition, we append a list of further references that includes both generalist titles and other publications by all of our contributors. However, note that each essay has its own bibliography included. We have made a conscious effort to incorporate a broad range of methods, drawing from social history (where did Jews live, what kind of houses did they live in, with whom did they interact, and how might such interactions be classified), material history and culture (what beyond texts did Jews leave behind for us to study and what do we learn from these material artefacts), and intellectual history or literary studies (how do late ancient Jewish texts conceive of categories such as sacred space, gender, the body, and otherness). Some scholars primarily study material culture or textual evidence because that is what interests them, but sometimes the choice is made by the available sources, or lack thereof. Ross Kraemer, Cynthia Baker, Karen Stern, Jason Mokhtarian, and Aaron Hughes write social histories based primarily on material finds, while Mira Wasserman, Julia Watts Belser, and Sandy Haney, among others, dig into textual and literary analysis for their intellectual histories. However, a number of our essayists, among them Shira Lander and Sarit Kattan Gribetz, demonstrate the richness of working with both the textual and material where possible. All of these essays highlight how our scholarship, no matter our questions, remains tied to, and is often limited by, the evidence at hand. Thus, we acknowledge, for instance, that our “Bodies and Genders” section is heavily dependent on textual sources, and rabbinic literature in particular, in part because that is where some very interesting work is happening, bringing these texts into conversation with larger cultural inquiries. However, in situating these essays within a volume that also raises questions about the cultural context and material remains in which these and other texts are embedded, we expand our knowledge about Jews and Judaism in the latter half of this period. Furthermore, a focus on gender(s) and bodies reminds us that Jewish textual sources display a profound, abiding interest in material bodies; as Jane Kanarek’s title to her essay signals, these sources are often the foreground for “bodies that matter.” By reframing our field as “late ancient,” we hope this volume demonstrates in some small way the breadth of Jewish experience in this period that can be excavated (and re‐excavated with new tools) from all of the sources. When we loosen our scholarly ties to more bounded, older categories, such as “rabbinic,” and “Second Temple,” or even “textual” and “material,” new stories are told, new social histories written, and new terrain uncovered and charted. Finally, a word about our cover image. The mosaic we chose for our cover presents the face of a woman and comes from the floor of a building structure in Sepphoris (the Dionysis Villa). While we fondly refer to her as Our Lady of Sepphoris (and she is also known as the Mona Lisa of the Galilee), she is otherwise unknown nor identified. The building structure in which this image was found was most likely the home of a wealthy family in this Galilean town. In Late Antiquity, Sepphoris was a bustling city, home to



many Jews, rabbis, Christians, Romans, and others. One cannot mark this image as specifically “Jewish,” yet it was found in a predominantly Jewish urban center, one known for its famous rabbis, such as Judah the Prince, redactor of the Mishnah. Thus, it represents for us the varieties and complexities of what “Jewish” looked like in Late Antiquity.

Where Jews Live Since we established as one of our purposes the mapping out of the breadth of Jewish settlement and experience within our rather expansive parameters, we felt it imperative to create a map, or set of maps, to plot our production in a visual as well as textual way. The maps were executed by Gordon Thompson with meticulous focus on detail and copious revisions as the essays came in and our geographic boundaries expanded. This set of maps is based on the localities mentioned in each and every essay, but in particular our two introductory essays, which attempt to map out Jewish settlement in all its manifestations over the timeline of this volume. Ross Kraemer handily and candidly demonstrates where, in the West, or most of the Mediterranean basin minus Palestine, we can be certain some Jews lived, and when, and where we have to remain with questions about continuity of settlement and possibility of settlement. Mika Ahuvia focuses on Roman Palestine and Persian Babylonia and in particular on the small towns and settlements rather than the larger cities. In so doing she also highlights the ways past scholarship, with its focus on the mostly urban rabbis and their output, has limited our scholarly view of the habitats of the majority of Jews in this time period, who were more likely to be town and village dwellers. The maps contain primarily the place names mentioned in these essays and thus they are not necessarily comprehensive (e.g., not every known late ancient synagogue appears here). They also map these place names across the full chronology of the volume and thus are not accurate to any given moment in this history, but reflect the overall ­settlement patterns of Jews over the centuries.

Literatures, Languages, and Materialities In this section our essays introduce not only the various sources scholars use to produce their scholarship but also the questions and issues that these sources raise for them as they think about Jews and Judaism in this period. Azzan Yadin‐Israel’s essay provides an overview of the late ancient Jewish linguistic landscape (to use his own words). He showcases not only the various languages and dialects but also the various authors’ ideological motivations for choosing one language over another. Eva Mroczek provides the lay of the textual land of literature composed by Jews from the fourth century bce into the second century ce. By moving her chronological boundaries outward, Mroczek demonstrates the problematics of the old category of “Second Temple literature” and the ways we can see larger patterns and dis/continuities between early and later texts, when that category is removed. Studying a broader swath of late ancient Jewish literature as a category on its own, and not just as an “interregnum” between biblical and rabbinic or Christian literature, allows the various manifestations of this literature to shine on each own’s account,


Naomi Koltun‐Fromm and Gwynn Kessler

but also to help us think about different categories of ideas and meaning created by late ancient Jews and Judaeans. It is difficult not to categorize Rabbinic literature as a thing unto itself. The texts are vast and dense, but they at least purport to be composed within a particularly self‐affirming and self‐identifying Jewish community, the rabbis. Michal Bar‐Asher Segal provides this necessary and lucid introduction. While we affirm that in a volume of this sort an introduction to this literature is an absolute necessity, it is our hope that by being included in the category of “Late Ancient Jews and Judaism,” we project the equally necessary ideal that this literature remains a part and parcel of something larger—not just among late ancient Jews but within Late Antiquity writ large. Even this literature, as self‐contained as it appears and is often presented, arises within a literary, cultural, and historical context. The contributions by Mira Beth Wasserman, Natalie Dohrman, John Mandsager, and Julia Watts Besler, among others throughout this volume, demonstrate the ways rabbinic cultures and texts interact with the cultures in which the rabbis were embedded. However, while many of our essayists use this literature as the basis for their own scholarship, it must be noted that rabbinic culture was not the dominant form of Jewish expression until rather late in the period under discussion. Yet histories are not written nor dependent solely on literary productions of the subject at hand. Outside literary sources as well as material culture must be consulted in order to create a more robust picture. Karen B. Stern, Cynthia M. Baker, and Jason S. Mokhtarian introduce us to and lead us through the vast array of material sources that are available for studying Jews and Judaism in this time period across the geographic boundaries we have established. However, they also highlight the limitations of this material, particularly the possibilities of clearly establishing the “Jewishness” of particular material and what it means to think about the material culture that Jews most likely shared with and we cannot now differentiate from their neighbors. Moreover, they highlight for us the ways material culture can sometimes support textual findings, but at other times subvert it, thus expanding knowledge gained solely from textual historical pursuits. For example, Mokhtarian argues for the benefits of a closer relationship between material and textual studies in order to better understand not only rabbinic texts but also the communities in which these texts were produced. Finally, studying non‐Jewish literary sources equally yields a more robust picture of late ancient Jews and Judaism, but this also comes with its own complexities and problems. Examples of this fruitful scholarship can be found in the last essay in this section by Naomi Koltun‐Fromm.

Identities and Ethnicities In this section we asked essayists to bring to the fore that very issue of “Who is a Jew” or “What is a Jew, Judaism, or Jewishness” in this period. Our essayists approached this question from many different points of view and research agendas as well as pulling on a variety of material and textual sources. Yair Furstenberg directly addresses the Jew/Judaean question and discusses the various ways and in what cultural contexts the numerous nomenclatures of Jew/Judaean/Israelite appear and what each term might mean in its different contexts. Jonathan Klawans asks another important question, which plays to the heart of



this project: what modern cultural assumptions influence the way we think about ancient Judaism, its history, and formation, particularly in relationship to the events of 70 ce and the loss of Judaean hegemony and cultic access in Jerusalem? How might we reassess this history if we changed or re‐evaluated those assumptions? Likewise, Joshua Burns suggests that too strong a dichotomy between “Diaspora” and “center,” though useful in locating certain Jewish communities, can also obscure how Jews presented themselves in whatever geographic and cultural situation they might find themselves, particularly in relationship to a presumed centralized “homeland.” Sandy L. Haney suggests that the hard distinction between “Jewish” and “Christian” obscures the reality behind Paul and his writings and that removing those boundaries opens up new insight into Pauline scholarship and his relationship to Jewishness. Through a close reading of the differences in the language of poverty between the Palestinian and Babylonian sources, Alyssa M. Gray shows us how to think about how these communities of rabbis construed themselves, their culture, and their agendas. Mira Beth Wasserman looks at how rabbinic Jews thought about themselves in relationship to others and how, by defining that otherness, they also defined themselves. Natalie Dohrman examines the idea of law in a variety of Jewish contexts, situating Jewish discussions of law in the wider late ancient context as both culturally consistent and resistant. Finally, Aaron Hughes’ contribution to this section focuses on a less studied area—the Jews of Arabia. However, in so doing Hughes demonstrates both how diverse Jews can be in presentation and practice, but also how the notion of Jewishness, or belonging to a community of Jews, held value to other communities trying to establish themselves within the geopolitical and cultural matrices that permeated Arabia in Late Antiquity.

Bodies and Genders Reading for gender and constructs of the human body provides a productive avenue in which to pursue research in late ancient Judaism. It not only gives contours to how Jews saw themselves in community and as individual human beings, often segregated by gender, but also to see how these same constructs work in tandem with similar constructs in the prevailing cultures in which Jews lived. Although we encouraged all of our contributors to incorporate gender analyses in their essays, we recognize the ways that a full integration of feminist and gender theory approaches requires specific training and a certain familiarity and expertise in these specialized discourses. Thus, we also devoted a separate section to introduce readers to some of the insights gleaned from focused analysis on gender and the body or, better, genders and bodies. Further, by including a number of essays specifically investigating topics related to genders and bodies, instead of just one introductory essay, we hoped to provide a sampling of some of the vastness, varieties, and richness of available approaches. Taken as a whole, this section demonstrates how questions about gender and the body are central to late antique Jewish considerations of a range of topics, including: sexualities, ritual, scriptural interpretation, piety, sin, witchcraft, disability, and theology. As mentioned above, we note that many of our contributors to this section focus exclusively on rabbinic sources (Kessler, Kanarek, Belser) and all of the essays primarily treat textual sources. Sara Ronis’ chapter integrates a discussion of “realia,” especially those of


Naomi Koltun‐Fromm and Gwynn Kessler

lamellae from Roman Palestine and incantation bowls in Sasanian Babylonia along with her discussion of witchcraft in rabbinic sources. However, we also hope that these examinations of bodies and embodiment remind us of the materiality and material affects of textual sources. Not only do textual bodies matter—pregnant bodies, bodies with disabilities, male bodies, female bodies, non‐binary gender bodies—but there are at least purported, practical affects of such diverse embodiments, especially in the realm of halakhic discussions and rulings. Furthermore, texts and words, as Elizabeth Shanks Alexander’s essay demonstrates, are incorporated into, onto, and around (male) bodies, as scripture itself is rendered a material entity. None of this blurring between the “textual” and “material” in written sources is meant to dismiss or even minimize the importance of studies of material culture that supplement, and profoundly enrich and alter, our knowledge of late antique Jews and Judaism. Rather, we mention them to highlight the ways in which the study of material culture increases our understandings of textual sources. In terms of chronology, the essays here span our broad period from the third century bce to the seventh century ce, and, of course, many reach back further as the sources of these centuries are engaging with biblical texts of an earlier period. The first four essays cover sources up to and including tannaitic rabbinic texts, with the latter two focused exclusively on tannaitic materials. Again, this demonstrates the necessity of approaches that both “zoom out,” covering Jewish and rabbinic materials, and “zero in” on tannaitic rabbinic texts. In the former cases, on sexualities (Dal Bo) and embodied rituals (Alexander), the broader perspectives allow us to see both continuity and difference among Jewish sources. In the two essays that focus on tannaitic rabbinic sources, we see more insular discussions, illuminating what we learn by attending to why a given mishnah is placed in a particular context instead of in another tractate (Kanarek) and the importance of considering tannaitic midrashic and mishnaic sources together (Kessler). Even in the latter two essays, the broader Greco‐Roman context looms, as the androginos person prevalent in rabbinic sources is named by a Greek loan word (Kessler) and Jewish bodies of all types are valued by slave‐market worth (Kanarek). The final two essays of this section extend beyond the Greco‐Roman and tannaitic contexts, bringing us to later, amoraic rabbinic sources and the broader context of the Sasanian Empire. Whereas halakhic texts have dominated the essays thus far, rabbinic narratives serve as the focus (Belser) or play a central role (Ronis) here. As disability (Belser) and magic (Ronis) are both framed here as historically contingent, constructed categories, these essays remind us that so too do sexuality, gender, and the body. Together, we hope the essays in this section, and their shared focus on issues of corporeality and embodiment, move us closer to understanding the variety of ways these categories have been constructed as various Jews navigated and negotiated their identities within the larger culture(s) of Late Antiquity.

Spaces In this last section we commissioned essays concerning the very local places where Jews might act as Jews: in the home, in their fields and businesses, in the public sphere, and in sacred spaces such as temples or synagogues or study houses. We often think of sacred



spaces first and foremost as the places where Jews act as Jews, particularly ritually, liturgically, and cultically. Thus, Sarit Kattan Gribetz outlines for us how sacred space both functioned practically and symbolically for Jews in various times and places in Late Antiquity. Yet she also notes how Jews thought about other peoples’ sacred spaces and what their presence meant to Jewish presence and practice. Laura S. Lieber and Cana Werman both show how the practice of Jewish liturgy and the practice of Jewish education overlap but also serve as means of “doing Jewish,” but in different ways in many of the communities they study and showcase. Lieber demonstrates how liturgy should not be seen as strictly textual but as a practice intricately influenced by the spaces in which it takes place. Werman thinks about intellectual centers and how they shaped various educational practices and spaces throughout Late Antiquity. Meredith J.C. Warren and John Mandsagar show us the ways that Jews also “do Jewish” in the home and in their businesses, but also the difficulties of distinguishing “Jewish” from non‐Jewish in these very same spaces. Finally, Shira L. Lander explores the ways Jews acted as philanthropists for Roman civic causes in the places where they lived in Late Antiquity, often supporting the construction of civic monuments and buildings, for the sake of the broader public need as well as Jewish solidarity. We hope this volume will be enjoyable and instructive as a volume of collected scholarly work to readers of all sorts. We also hope that it will spark further questions and research. As Aaron Hughes notes in his essay, when one stands at the periphery and studies what one finds there, for its own sake, rather than through the lens of established history, we learn new things about many an old idea, community, culture or people we thought we knew everything about already. In every generation we should be learning something new.

Appendix I: An Historical Outline 586 bce Destruction of Jerusalem and the First Judaean Commonwealth 539–333 bce Persian Period • • • •

c. 537–515 bce Return of Judaeans to Jerusalem Return of cultic practice to Jerusalem Temple (beginning of Second Temple period) Judaea reconstituted as a Persian satrapy headed by the Temple high priest At the same time Judaeans remain in Babylonia and probably eventually settle in many different places along the rivers in Babylonia • Judaeans also settle in Egypt on the Nile

333–63 bce Hellenistic Period (in Judaea) 336–323 bce Alexander the Great 247 bce to 224 ce Parthian (Arsacid Persian) dynasty • c. 250–100 bce Composition of Jubilees, 1 Enoch, Letter of Aristeas 167–164 bce Maccabean Revolt 167–63 bce Independent Maccabean/Hasmonean Kingdom


Naomi Koltun‐Fromm and Gwynn Kessler

• 76–67 bce Reign of Queen Salome Alexandra (Shlomtzion Ha‐Malka) • Jewish “Sectarianism” Qumran settled • Composition of the Dead Sea Scrolls 63 bce Judaea becomes a Roman province 63 bce–330 ce Roman Period (in Judaea) • • • • • • •

• • • • • • • • • • •

37 bce–4 bce Herod the Great c. 20 bce Herod begins rebuilding of the Second (or Herod’s) Temple c. 0–33 ce Birth, life, and death of Jesus c. 30–50 ce Reign and conversion of Queen Helena of Adiabene c. 50s ce Paul composes his letters c. 50s ce Philo writes his main works 66–73 ce The Great Revolt, resulting in the destruction of Jerusalem, the Temple, and the pseudo‐autonomous Judaean state, and the depopulation of Judaea of Jews/ Judaeans (many move north to the Galilee, many are exiled or taken as slaves to Rome—beginnings of settlements in Europe) c. 90–100 ce Josephus composes the Judaean Wars and the Antiquities of the Judaeans c. 60–100 ce The New Testament Gospels composed 115–117 ce The Jewish revolts of Cyrene (Libya), Alexandria, and Cyprus 114–117 ce Trajan’s incursion into Mesopotamia, which affected Jewish settlement there 132—135 ce the Revolt of Bar Kokhba and the resulting Romanization of Jerusalem into Aelia Capitolina by Hadrain c. 140 ce Movement of Palestinian Jewish rabbinic core to Galilee as well as to Babylonia c. 140 ce First mention of a Babylonian exilarch c. 210 ce The codification/redaction of the Mishnah c. 175–220 ce Reign of Judah the Nasi, the first patriarch Composition of other tannaitic literatures: Tosefta and the halakhic midrashim c. 220–250 ce Emergence of rabbinic academies in Babylonia

224–651 Sasanian Empire (Babylonia) 325 Conversion of Constantine to Christianity 325–636 Early Byzantine Empire (Judaea) • c. 400 Redaction of the Palestinian Talmud (also known as the Talmud of the Land of Israel, or the Yerushalmi) • 410 Sack of Rome (Alaric) • Major midrashic works (emerging from Palestine) in fourth and fifth centuries (e.g., Genesis Rabbah, Leviticus Rabbah, Pesikta de Rav Kahanah) • c. 425 End of the Patriarchate in Palestine • 425–525 (Possible) Jewish Kingdom of Himyar in Arabia • c. 600–700 Redaction of the Babylonian Talmud (the Bavli) • 614 Conquest of Jerusalem by Persians



636 Conquest of Jerusalem and much of the Middle East by Arab Caliphate • Jews return to live in Jerusalem and Judaea, and spread outward across the Arab/ Islamic world • 692 The building of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem

Appendix 2: Further Reading Alexander, Elizabeth Shanks (2013). Gender and Timebound Commandments in Judaism. Ahuvia, Mika (2020). Angels in Late Antique Judaism. Baker, Cynthia (2002). Architectures of Gender in Jewish Antiquity. Bar‐Asher Siegal, Michal (2013). Early Christian Monastic Literature and the Babylonian Talmud. Belser, Julia Watts (2018). Rabbinic Tales of Destruction: Sex, Gender and Disability in the Ruins of Jerusalem. Boyarin, Daniel (2004). Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo‐Christianity. Burns, Joshua (2016). The Christian Schism in Jewish History and Jewish Memory. Cohen, Shaye (2001). The Beginnings of Jewishness: Boundaries, Varieties, Uncertainties. Dal Bo, Federico (2019). Deconstructing the Talmud: The Absolute Book. Davies, W.D. and Finkelstein, L. (eds.) (1984). Cambridge History of Ancient Judaism, 3 volumes. Dohrman, N. and Reed, A. (eds.) (2013). Jews, Christians, and the Roman Empire: The Poetics of Power in Late Antiquity. Fonrobert, C. and Jaffee, M. (eds.) (2007). The Cambridge Companion to the Talmud and Rabbinic Literature. Furstenburg, Yair (2016). Purity and Community in Antiquity: Traditions of the Law from Second Temple Judaism to the Mishnah. Gafni, Isaiah (1997). Land Center and Diaspora. Goodman, Martin (2008). Rome and Jerusalem: The Clash of Ancient Civilizations. Goodman, Martin (2018). A History of Judaism. Gribetz, Sarit Kattan and Lance Jenott (eds.) (2013). Jewish and Christian Cosmogony in Late Antiquity. Gray, Alyssa M. (2005). A Talmud in Exile: The Influence of the Yerushalmi Avodah Zarah on the Formation of Bavli Avodah Zarah. Hauptman, Judith (1998). Rereading the Rabbis: A Woman’s Voice. Himmelfarb, Martha (2017). Jewish Messiahs in a Christian Empire. Hughes, Aaron (2017). Shared Identities: Medieval and Modern Imaginings of Judeo‐Islam. Ilan, Tal (1997). Mine, Yours and Hers: Retrieving Women’s History from Rabbinic Literature. Kalmin, Richard (2006). Jewish Babylonia Between Persia and Roman Palestine. Kanarek, Jane (2014). Biblical Narrative and the Formation of Rabbinic Law. Kessler, Gwynn (2009). Conceiving Israel: The Fetus in Rabbinic Narratives. Klawans, Jonathan (2012). Josephus and the Theologies of Ancient Judaism.


Naomi Koltun‐Fromm and Gwynn Kessler

Koltun‐Fromm, Naomi (2010). Hermeneutics of Holiness: Ancient Jewish and Christian Notions of Sexuality and Religious Community. Kraemer, Ross S. (2011). Unreliable Witness: Religion, Gender and History in the Greco‐ Roman Mediterranean. Kraemer, Ross S. (2019). The Mediterranean Diaspora in Late Antiquity: What Christianity Cost the Jews. Lander, Shira L. (2016). Ritual Sites and Religious Rivalries in Late Roman North Africa. Levine, Lee (2000). The Ancient Synagogue. Lieber, Laura S. (2014). A Vocabulary of Desire: The Song of Songs in the Early Synagogue. Magness, Jodi (2012). The Archaeology of the Holy Land: From the Destruction of Solomon’s Temple to the Muslim Conquest. Mandsanger, John (2014). To Stake a Claim: The Making of Rabbinic Agricultural Spaces in the Roman Countryside. PhD dissertation. Stanford University. Mokhtarian, Jason Sion (2015). Rabbis, Sorcerers, Kings, and Priests: The Culture of the Talmud in Ancient Iran. Mroczek, Eva (2016). The Literary Imagination in Jewish Antiquity. Ronis, Sara (2015). Do Not Go Out Alone at Night: Law and Demonic Discourse in the Babylonian Talmud. PhD dissertation. Yale University. Schaefer, Peter (1995). A History of the Jews in Antiquity. Schwartz, Seth (2001). Imperialism and Jewish Society, 200 BCE to 640 CE. Stern, Karen B. (2018). Writing on the Wall: Graffiti and the Forgotten Jews of Antiquity. Warren Meredith, J.C. (2015). My Flesh is Meat Indeed: A Non‐Sacramental Reading of John 6: 51–58. Wasserman, Mira Beth (2017). Jews, Gentiles and Other Animals: The Talmud after Humanities. Weiss, Zeev, Irshai, Oded, Magness, Jodi, and Schwartz, Seth (eds.) (2010). “Follow the Wise”: Studies in Jewish History and Culture in Honor of Lee I. Levine. Weitzman, Steven (2017). The Origin of the Jews: The Quest for Roots in a Rootless Age. Werman, Cana (2016). The Book of Jubilees: Introduction, Translation and Interpretation (Hebrew Edition). Yadin, Azzan (2015). Scripture and Tradition: Rabbi Akiva and the Triumph of Midrash.




Where Jews Lived in the West Ross S. Kraemer

Introduction At the beginning of the third century bce, persons this volume designates as “Jews” lived not only in the region they considered their ancestral homeland (the land of Israel) but in various other parts of the ancient world, including Egypt, especially Alexandria, and Mesopotamia (this last region is outside the purview of this essay).1 By the first century ce, there were now Jews living not only in nearby regions such as Syria and Egypt but also in the imperial center of Rome, the cities and towns of Greece and Asia Minor (modern Turkey), and the islands between them. However, by the beginning of the seventh century, there is sparse evidence for Jews anywhere in Asia Minor, or in Alexandria, or in the capital city of Constantinople, while virtually no Jews have lived in Jerusalem and its immediate environs for centuries. This essay surveys (1) the sources for Jewish habitation in the ancient Mediterranean during these centuries, (2) the problems posed by these sources, (3) what they may tell us about where Jews lived and when, and (4) what might explain the distribution of Jewish populations over this particular thousand years.

The Sources for Jewish Habitation—An Overview Of the diverse sources that inform us about where Jews lived, some are literary compositions by both Jewish and non‐Jewish authors. Writing in Greek in the late first century ce, the prolific Josephus locates Jews living throughout the eastern Mediterranean from Rome to Alexandria and all points in between. Josephus also attributes to his non‐Jewish contemporary, Strabo of Amaseia, the observation that the Jews had “made their way into A Companion to Late Ancient Jews and Judaism: Third Century bce to Seventh Century ce, First Edition. Edited by Naomi Koltun-Fromm and Gwynn Kessler. © 2020 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published 2020 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


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every city … in the habitable world,” although Strabo’s actual account does not survive independently (Ant. 14.115; Stern 2008, pp. 277–278). Other non‐Jewish writers in the late Hellenistic and early Roman periods (many conveniently collected in GLAJJ) note the presence of Jews, not only in their native Judaea but also in Egypt, neighboring Cyrene, Rome, and elsewhere, although they rarely have anything of consequence to say about Jews outside these places. From the first century on, writers associated with early Christianity often refer to Jews living in many locations, including sometimes places for which we have no other evidence of Jewish residence. Late Roman imperial legislation also occasionally supplies knowledge of Jews residing in specific and otherwise unattested locations (JRIL). Apart from Josephus, and to a much more limited extent, Philo, the substantial literature in Greek (and somewhat less in Latin) likely to have been composed by Jewish authors contributes little to our knowledge of where Jews really lived, particularly after the first century ce. Produced by writers who concealed their authorship behind either a cloak of deliberate anonymity or unquestionably false attributions (often to biblical figures), these texts are typically set in a fictitious biblical past, or in some other ahistorical setting that provides no useful information about Jewish habitation. Many rabbinic writings contain tales of rabbis set in specific geographic locations, but the Mishnah and the Talmud of the Land of Israel rarely speak to the habitations of Jews outside ancient Palestine, with occasional references to relatively proximate regions like Cilicia in Asia Minor. Material evidence is perhaps the most reliable proof of Jewish habitation, provided that it can be authenticated and properly dated. Graves of Jews identified by explicit burial inscriptions, or other dispositive features, testify to the residence of Jews in many locations throughout the centuries in question and are regularly the only surviving material evidence for Jewish presence in particular locations (JIGRE; JIWE; IJO 2004). Buildings definitively used by Jews, primarily synagogues, are plentiful in the land of Israel. In the Mediterranean Diaspora, however, there are at least 14 known sites with synagogues: Sardis, Priene, and Andriake (Asia Minor); Plovdiv, Stobi, and Saranda (Balkan peninsula); Ostia and Bova Marina (Italy); Hamman Lif and Kelibia (Roman North Africa); the islands of Aegina and Chios; and Gerasa and Apamea (Syria). Another five whose identification as synagogues remains more ambiguous are Elche (Spain), Mopsuestia, and more recently Limyra (Asia Minor), Leptis Magna (North Africa) and on the island of Delos. They seem to have been built and used between the third and the sixth centuries ce, with most clustering in the fourth and fifth centuries (precisely the time, ironically, that imperial laws regulated and restricted synagogue building). Remnants of synagogues whose actual sites are no longer known survive for numerous additional locations, in the form of lintels, columns, and other building elements recognizable either by distinctive Jewish elements such as inscribed menorot or by unquestionably Jewish inscriptions. Non‐literary writings by or about Jews—tax documents, private contracts, occasional personal letters, and the like—are an additional significant source of evidence for Jewish habitation in some areas, primarily dry regions in Egypt and the Judaean desert, where documents on papyrus are most likely to survive to modernity. Occasionally, other material remains, such as lamps marked with a seven‐branched menorah or other distinctive Jewish symbols, protective amulets, and the like provide hints of Jewish residence as well.

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The Quality of These Sources The evidence we have ultimately accords, to some degree, with Strabo’s apparent assertion that Jews were everywhere. However, almost all of this evidence warrants caution, particularly for authenticating Jewish habitation of specific places at specific times. The surviving literary sources sometimes obscure or conceal Jewish habitation and may inaccurately claim the presence of Jewish habitation, sometimes out of ideological interests, particularly (but not only) when those authors were Christians. In the Acts of the Apostles, the lengthy New Testament narrative of what happened after Jesus’s death, his followers, especially Paul and his associates, preached about Jesus—with varying success—to Jews living at various locations between Jerusalem and Rome, where Paul’s third and final journey ends in the Acts. These include the island of Cyprus (Acts 11: 19; Acts 13: 4–13); Syrian Antioch (Acts 11: 19–20); Psidian Antioch (Acts 13: 14–52), Iconium (Acts 14: 1–7); Thessalonica (Acts 17: 10–11); Beroea (Greece) (Acts 17: 10–13); Athens (Acts 17: 16–34); Corinth (Acts 18: 1–17), and Ephesus (Acts 18: 19–21; Acts 18: 24–19: 10) (see Haney, Chapter 15, for more on Paul). Jews may well have lived in these locations in the mid‐first century when Acts is set (for further discussion of Asia Minor, see below). But Acts may not be the proof. In Paul’s own letters, he is adamant that God called him to preach Christ to Gentiles, not Jews (Galatians 1: 15; 2: 7–10). Yet stories of Paul repeatedly offering his teachings about the Christ first to Jews, often with little success, and then to Gentiles, often with more success, are central to the ideology/theology of Acts. The more places in which Acts can set such stories, the more it appears to prove that Jews had every opportunity to hear and accept Paul’s message, yet did not do so. Acts was not written for at least several decades after Paul’s death and current scholarship increasingly places its composition in the early to mid‐second century ce. Its author is thus unlikely to have first‐hand knowledge of where Jews lived many decades earlier, especially in Asia Minor. Instead, Acts may derive some of these geographic references from Paul’s own letters, or from Josephus’s references to these (also discussed further below), or retroject Jewish habitation in the author’s time back onto the first century. Another cautionary tale concerns Jews living on the small Balearic island of Minorca off the eastern coast of Spain. The evidence that Jews ever lived on Minorca before the modern period comes almost entirely from a lengthy account in Latin, which purports to be a letter by one Severus, the bishop of the island. It details how the island’s 540 Jews became Christians within the space of one week in February in 418 ce (Bradbury 1996; Kraemer 2020). (A contemporaneous author named Consentius confirms that something transpired on Minorca around this time, but does not specifically mention Jews). The Letter of Severus claims that the converted Jews helped to build a new Christian basilica on the foundations of their synagogue, which burned to the ground at the beginning of these events. However, no material evidence for the presence of Jews on Minorca has yet been found—whether remnants of the synagogue or anything else. Although most scholars now take the text itself to be composed in the early fifth century—and perhaps evidence for some actual historical events—the work was long thought to be a forgery of the seventh century or perhaps even later, and thus no indication of the presence of Jews there. If the Letter does at least reliably attest Jews on Minorca in the early fifth century, it then makes clear that the absence of evidence for Jews is not reliable evidence of their absence,


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and prompts us to wonder how many other places Jews might have lived for which we lack both literary and material attestation. Further, even if Jews did at some point live on Minorca, nothing allows us to say when they first came there and nor what happened to them after their apparent wholesale conversion. The case of Minorca illustrates not only the arbitrary quality of literary attestation, and the possibility of fabrication, but also the minefield that is material evidence. It is often difficult to determine whether an inscription (or other artefact) refers to actual Jews. Names are only sometimes reliable indicators of Jewishness and features that might seem distinctively Jewish (like burial formulas or titles of communal offices) are often ambiguous. Even material proof that a Jewish person was present in a particular location at a particular point in time does not require the conclusion that Jews lived in that location, let alone that substantial numbers of Jews lived in that location, or that substantial numbers of Jews lived in that location over long periods of time. The presence of a Jewish name on a donor list might allude to the temporary presence of a Jewish traveler passing through a town at the time of a major festival. A solitary epitaph, or amulet, might signal no more than the sudden death of a Jewish traveler, buried by residents of the town (see Stern, Chapter 7 and Baker, Chapter 8 on material culture). Conversely, the absence of material evidence for Jews in any particular location does not mean that Jews were not there, which is a problem with multiple dimensions. Without the Letter of Severus, for instance, we would have no reason to think there had ever been Jews in Minorca (presuming that, in fact, there were). We may lack material evidence for Jews in any given place partly because little effort has been made to find such evidence, for many reasons. In modern Israel, considerable resources have been available for archaeological investigation of sites of Jewish habitation in the Hellenistic and Roman periods, resulting in the discovery and excavation of at least fifty late antique synagogues (Levine 2005, p.164; Werlin 2015). However, the modern states that now govern the regions where Jews lived in the Mediterranean diaspora rarely have much interest in inaugurating the search for late antique Jewish (or sometimes Christian) sites, or even facilitating such excavation after an initial find. Virtually all the synagogues that have been found in the Mediterranean diaspora were first found serendipitously. Those sites that have been meaningfully excavated subsequently—like Ostia, Sardis, and Priene—have often been done so by outside institutions. This is particularly an issue in modern Turkey, where remains of several Jewish synagogues have been found in recent years, and where unquestionably there must be many more, yet where the state has relatively little interest in promoting the pre‐Islamic history of the region, apart from the revenues that interested tourists, many of them Christians, may furnish. Even when there may be some interest in this history, the realities of modern urban life make the search for ancient Jewish synagogues and burial sites impractical. Numerous inscriptions in Roman catacombs used by Jews in the third and fourth centuries ce refer to multiple synagogue associations, some—if not all—of which must have had dedicated buildings. However, no one is going to try to locate any of these under a modern city. Even on Minorca, a small island with only two major port towns and several smaller towns dotted across its hilly terrain, any synagogue that once existed would be virtually impossible to find unless the church built over it was one of the six known early Byzantine churches outside Mahon, called Magona in the Letter, and this does not seem to be the case (Kraemer 2020).

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We may, however, have more material evidence for Jews than we recognize, literally. Our ability to identify material evidence for Jews rests on assumptions that Jews are visible as such: by their names, by their distinctive material practices, by their self‐proclamation, but almost certainly, we have all kinds of material remains that came from Jews but cannot be identified as such: burial inscriptions for persons whose names and burial practices do not signal Jewishness, lists of donors to public enterprises or members of private associations whose Jewishness is not apparent, household objects that give no hint of their owners’ identifications, or houses once inhabited by Jews that similarly lack any surviving distinctive markers (if they ever had them). Ultimately, this means that although we may occasionally draw an erroneous inference of Jewish habitation from a random epitaph or material find, any assessment of where Jews lived will necessarily be minimal rather than maximal. It cannot be over‐emphasized that even when we have adequate evidence of Jewish habitation in a particular location, we lack information about many basic questions: when Jews first lived there, when they last lived there, whether they lived there continuously over time, or whether their habitation was discontinuous—and if so why. Jewish habitation of the city of Alexandria, discussed further below, is an important instance of this problem, but it may be true for many other places as well for which we have even less reliable evidence. Some of these problems arise because the material evidence is notoriously resistant to precise dating. Inscriptions, whether epitaphs, recognition of donations, or anything else, rarely contain explicit dates, and in many cases are simply placed by scholars into broad ranges (e.g., “second to fourth centuries ce”). Documents on papyri often originally contained dates, but the part of the papyrus with the date is now often missing or is illegible. Further, we never have adequate knowledge of even basic Jewish demographics: the age and gender distribution of any given Jewish population, birth rates, death rates, marriage rates, civic statuses (including categories particular to the ancient Mediterranean—how many Jews were freeborn, how many enslaved, how many were freedpersons, etc.).

What These Sources Suggest About Where Jews Lived: Some Granularity Most studies of Jews in the Hellenistic and Roman periods tend to study Jewish habitation geographically rather than chronologically, at scales large—the city of Rome, Roman Egypt, Roman Asia Minor, Roman North Africa, late antique Palestine, or North Africa— and small—the island of Crete, the town of Corycus in Asia Minor, or Venosa in southern Italy. Geographically focused studies are valuable, particularly for their recognition that place matters and that homogenizing Jews, by ignoring the specifics of local conditions, too easily plays into stereotypes—deployed by both Jews and Christians for different reasons—that Jews are homogeneous and static, the same everywhere, as well as at all times, while always different from those around them (Stern 2008). Such studies are in many ways also easier: although we often cannot date either literary sources or material finds with sufficient precision to organize the data chronologically, literary sources regularly mention known places, and we usually (although not always) know generally where material


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sources came from. Thus, in the more detailed survey of the evidence for Jewish habitation that follows here, I organize the evidence geographically, beginning with larger population centers and adjacent regions, but I will ultimately argue that shifts in Jewish habitation over the millenium covered by this volume are significant.

Alexandria Ample evidence attests to the presence of a large Jewish population in Alexandria by the first century ce. Although Josephus claims that Alexander the Great (who died in 323 bce) himself granted Jews the right to live in the city (Ag. Ap. 2.35; J.W. 2.487–489), the first secure evidence for the presence of Jews probably dates later, to the third century bce (CPJ 1: 3–10; JIGRE xiv–xv). A pre‐eminent citizen, the Jewish philosopher Philo, claims that in his own time (late first century bce to mid first century ce), Jews resided especially in two of the city’s five sectors, comprising a substantial portion of the populace (Flaccus 55). He never claims, however, that only Jews lived in these sectors, nor that Jews lived nowhere else in the city. The first and early second centuries ce were not kind to Jews in Alexandria, whose contestations over citizenship rights with both the Greek and Egyptian populations of the city, and those of Egypt more generally, were often devastatingly violent. According to Philo, our primary Jewish source for these events, the Roman governor, Flaccus, sided with Alexandrian Greeks who sought to classify Jews in Alexandria as foreigners, with devastating effects on their civic rights. The resulting riots culminated in catastrophic attacks on Jews and their synagogues, which led Philo and several other representatives of Alexandrian Jews to ultimately appeal to the emperor, Gaius Caligula, in Rome itself. When Caligula was assassinated, he was succeeded by Claudius, who ultimately confirmed the basic privileges of Alexandrian Jews without granting them the full citizenship rights they sought. However, many Jews may have died in the various instances of sustained violence—some instigated by Jews, some by others—and Jews continued to live in Alexandria. Josephus reports several other instances of violent conflict between Jews and other Alexandrians at the time of the first Jewish revolt, centered in Palestine (J.W. 2.487ff; 7.409ff), after which the Romans also destroyed a Jewish temple in Leontopolis built by an Oniad priest in the second century bce. However, Jews continued to live in Alexandria, as evidenced in part by papyri documenting their payment of a punitive Jewish tax imposed by the Roman emperor Vespasian. Most significant was a subsequent Jewish revolt that may have begun against the local populations of Cyrene and Egypt, perhaps in 115 ce, and may also have spread to Palestine. The details of the revolt are only sketchily known, but it was eventually definitively put down by the Roman army after several years of intense fighting (CPJ 1.86–93; Zeev and Pucci 2005). Many scholars think that the result was near annihilation of the Jewish population, not only in Alexandria itself but in much of Egypt as a whole. Whether Jews continued to live in Alexandria after these events is virtually impossible to assess. As Tcherikover noted 60 years ago, Jews subsequently disappear from virtually all the extant sources (CPJ 1.93–94). If there were meaningful numbers of Jews living in Egypt in the second and third centuries ce, they are all but invisible to us now. Yet by the fifth century ce, Christian sources narrate the presence of substantial numbers of Jews living in Alexandria, jockeying for position both with the city’s Christian

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population and with those who still adhered to their own non‐Christian ancestral traditions. How the city came again to have a meaningful Jewish population is rarely even considered. Whether they were immigrants from elsewhere in Egypt or much farther afield in the empire is unknown and may well be unanswerable. According to a story told by the fifth century Christian author, Sokrates of Constantinople, the Jews of Alexandria were expelled from the city in the early fifth century by the city’s orthodox bishop, Cyril, after a riot against Christians instigated by the Jews (Hist. Eccl. 7.13). The story has some disturbing resonances with older accounts of Jewish riots in Alexandria but scholars generally take it to depict actual historical events, worrying mostly about whether Sokrates exaggerates the extent of the expulsion and whether it was really ­permanent, or only temporary. The evidence for Jews in Alexandria after this point is, however, minimal.

Egypt (Outside Alexandria) The history of Jewish residence elsewhere in Egypt is complex. The Letter of Aristeas (itself often dated, on thin evidence, to the second century bce), claims that Ptolemy I –Alexander’s immediate successor in Egypt—took 100,000 Jewish prisoners of war to Egypt from Palestine (Let. Aris. 12–14). Documents on papyrus explicitly dated as early as the fifth century bce attest the presence of Jews up the Nile at Elephantine (Porten 2011), while subsequent dated papyri and inscriptions place Jews at various other towns in Egypt from the third century bce at least into the early second century ce, the time of the revolts noted earlier (CPJ I; JIGRE). After this, the material evidence for Jews in Egypt, Cyrene, and elsewhere declines precipitously until late antiquity, and even then remains modest (CPJ III). The size of the Jewish population in Egypt at any point cannot be reliably gauged. Philo’s claim that there were a million Jews in all of Egypt in the first century (Flaccus 43) seems implausible for many reasons, not the least of which is how he could have known this. As scholars have noted, the Roman government had no reason to count Jews in Egypt until several decades after Philo wrote his treatise, when a punitive tax was imposed on Jews in 71/72 ce in the wake of the first revolt.

The City of Rome When Jews first settled in Rome is unknown. A fragment attributed to a first century ce Roman writer contains a story that Jews were expelled from Rome in 139 bce for proselytizing (Valerius Maximus 1.3.3). However, the story survives only as an excerpt in much later sources and it seems unwise to rely on its representation of Jewish settlement without additional corroboration. According to Josephus, Jews were clearly in residence in Rome by the turn of the first century bce/ce, for Jews both in Rome itself and in the port of Puteoli were taken in by an imposter who claimed to be the deceased son of Herod the Great, who survived his father’s plan to execute him when an assassin spared him instead (Ant. 17.328–330). In his Embassy to Gaius [155], Philo writes that Jews in Rome lived primarily in the area now known as Trastevere, most of whom were Roman freedpersons—previously


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enslaved and subsequently freed by their owners, with whom they then had a relationship of mutual obligations. Some members of the royal Herodian family, such as Agrippa II, were extremely close to imperial family members in Rome and spent a considerable time in Rome itself (a memorable episode of the 1970s TV mini‐series I, Claudius, vividly imagines the friendship between Claudius and Agrippa). At the end of the first Jewish revolt (66–73 ce), Josephus himself was enslaved by the emperor Vespasian, and subsequently freed. Although he spent the remaining years of his life in Rome as a client of the imperial family (hence his new name of Flavius Josephus), his voluminous writings from these years say little about the actual Roman Jewish population in the last decades of the first century. Josephus was more fortunate than many of his compatriots. Many of those who managed to survive the horrors of the war were enslaved and force‐marched to Rome, along with spoils from the destroyed Temple in Jerusalem, depicted on the famous Arch of Titus, which still stands in Rome today (see Figure 7.2). The adjacent and even more famous Colosseum seems to have been built with the labor of those enslaved Jews and funded from the sale of the Temple treasures. Like Josephus, however, many enslaved Jews seem to have been freed eventually and to have remained in Rome, where they formed the nucleus of what appears to have become a substantial Roman Jewish population in the next several centuries. Various Roman writers subsequently attest their presence: Tacitus, Dio Cassius, the satirist Juvenal, and others (GLAJJ), as well as Christian writers from Justin Martyr on. Several burial catacombs across ancient Rome contain Jewish graves that have yielded a total of about six hundred epitaphs, some inscribed on marble plaques, others painted on to plaster used to seal the graves (JIWE 2). Although these are often described as “Jewish catacombs,” recent scholarship has suggested that they may not have been used by Jews exclusively. Modern editions of the inscriptions generally date them largely to the third and fourth centuries ce, but individual inscriptions are almost impossible to date with any precision. None contain explicit dates or other relevant references, and other elements of the inscriptions, including names of the deceased, lettering styles, stock phrases, and decorative features, are rarely of much help. As early as the sixteenth century, these catacombs were explored, often cavalierly, by amateurs who paid little attention to documenting what they found where, making it now impossible in most instances to reconstruct much about the original locations of these inscriptions and their possible relationships to one another. The largest of these catacombs, known as Monteverde, underneath a modern apartment building, is no longer accessible, and only one or two smaller catacombs (Vigna Randanini and Villa Torlonia) are accessible to visitors.2 It seems likely that the catacombs were not used before the second century ce, nor much later than the end of the fourth century ce. Whether this eventual disuse reflects changes in the circumstances of Jews in Rome or shifts in burial practices is unknown, although catacombs used by Christians also fall into disuse around the same time. From the fourth century on, however, the population of Rome as a whole declined significantly, facilitated by the relocation of the imperial capital to Constantinople under Constantine, as well as the impact of barbarian invasions, including the infamous sack of Rome by Alaric in 410. The material evidence for the presence of Jews in Rome declines precipitously after this, with few epitaphs or other inscriptions that can be reliably dated after the early fifth century.

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Jews in Italy Outside Rome Based on the archaeological evidence, the preponderance of Jews in Italy appears to have lived in Rome, at least until the end of the fourth century. The material evidence for Jews elsewhere in Italy is relatively modest. During construction of a highway to the Rome airport in 1961, the remains of a relatively large Jewish synagogue were found at Ostia Antica, the old port of Rome at the mouth of the Tiber, close to what was once the river. The building appears to have been renovated several times while in use as a synagogue, beginning perhaps in the third century ce. By the fourth century, Ostia was supplanted by Portus as the commercial port of Rome. The synagogue might still have been in use as late as the sixth century, but this is uncertain. A few inscriptions from Ostia have also been found. The only other synagogue found so far in Italy is at Bova Marina (in Calabria). It seems to have first been used in the fourth century and to have ceased use in the late fifth (or perhaps sixth) century, apparently at the same time that, for reasons that seem unknown, the whole settlement was abandoned. A smattering of Jewish inscriptions is known from a handful of sites across Italy. The earliest appears to be an inscription from Aquileia in northern Italy by a Jewish freedman (JIWE 1.7), dated to the first century bce and one of the only inscriptions explicitly identifying a Jew as a freedperson. Inscriptions probably dating to the fifth century (or perhaps even later) have been found elsewhere in the north, including Milan (JIWE 1.1–3) and Grado (JIWE 1.8), for a Jew who became a Christian. An inscription thought to be somewhat earlier, mentions the “mother of the synagogue of the Brescians,” also in northern Italy (JIWE 1.4). Approximately half the Jewish inscriptions from Italy outside Rome come from the small city of Venosa, in southern Italy, in a catacomb that appears to have been in use from the fourth through the early sixth centuries ce. Unlike the catacombs in Rome, whose shoddy early exploration greatly damaged our ability to date the inscriptions sequentially or reconstruct relationships among the persons buried there, the Venosa catacomb has yielded a small treasure trove of sequenced burials and family ties, fortuitously aided by the discovery of a single inscription dated to the early sixth century (521 ce). Inscriptions from the early sixth century also point to familial and social ties between Jews living at Venosa and those living at Lecce, Italy (ancient Lypiae), and in what is now Saranda, Albania, where a late antique synagogue was accidentally discovered in 1984 and subsequently more fully excavated. It seems to have become a church by the sixth century, before the entire area was destroyed by fire around 600 ce. A different cemetery in Venosa contains burials dating to the eighth or ninth centuries, and we know nothing about whether Jews continued to live there throughout these centuries or whether the later cemetery reflects a subsequent settlement. Fifteen inscriptions, mostly bilingual in Hebrew and Latin, attest to the presence of Jews in Taranto, about one hundred miles southeast on the coast, in the late seventh and eighth centuries, generally beyond the scope of this volume (JIWE 1.120–134). Only two inscriptions from the city, in Greek (and Hebrew), appear to be meaningfully earlier (JIWE 1.118–119). The literary and material evidence align unevenly. Writers of the fifth and sixth centuries provide vignettes of Jews living in a few locations for which we have inscriptions. About a dozen inscriptions, for instance, have been found in Naples, almost all d ­ ating


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to the fifth and perhaps sixth centuries ce. One, however, assumed to be Jewish, attests to a woman taken captive in Jerusalem, presumably in the first century ce (JIWE 1.26). The sixth century author, Procopios, details the support of Jews in Naples for the Arian Christian Goths fighting the forces of the orthodox Christian emperor Justinian. Various writers and some late Roman laws place Jews in Ravenna – at times the seat of the western imperial court ‐ for which the only archaeological attestation is a fragment of an amphora with the Hebrew letters dated perhaps to the fifth or sixth centuries ce (JIWE 1.10). The letters of (Pope) Gregory the Great at the end of the sixth century mention Jews living in Naples and Rome (for which we have no material evidence contemporaneous with Gregory), as well as Genoa, Luni, and Terracina, for which we presently have no material evidence at all. Gregory also knows of Jews in Agrigento in Sicily, from which we have one inscription, and in Palermo, from which we have none. Fewer than twenty inscriptions attest the presence of Jews elsewhere on Sicily, mostly from Catania (JIWE 1.143–160).

Europe Outside Italy By comparison, the secure evidence for Jews on the northern and western borders of the late Roman empire is thin before the sixth century. This is particularly true for Gaul (modern France), where we have only two epitaphs, both dating to the seventh century or later, again largely beyond the scope of this essay. One comes from Narbonne (JIWE 1.189), where literary sources including Gregory the Great suggest that Jews lived there in the fifth and sixth centuries as well. The other comes from St. Germain‐en‐Laye, just outside Paris. Christian authors from the mid‐sixth century on recount stories of how Jews in diverse locations in Gaul were given the choice of converting or suffering expulsion. Gregory of Tours (and Venantius Fortunatus) tell somewhat different versions of such a story about Bishop Avitus and the Jews of Clermont in the late sixth century, but similar stories are told about Jews in Uzès, Bourges, Marseilles, and even Paris itself. Gregory’s account has some striking similarities with that of the Letter of Severus of Minorca, which he may possibly have read. Gregory’s History of the Franks also places Jews in Orleans, while letters of Gregory the Great situate Jews in and around Marseilles at roughly the same time. Decrees from various Christian councils in the fifth, sixth, and early seventh centuries frequently regulate interactions between Christians and Jews, but such regulations do not guarantee the presence of Jews in particular locations (JLSEMA, pp. 465–482). For Spain, the hard evidence is similarly modest before the seventh century. The Letter of Severus envisions Jews traveling from Spain to Minorca, particularly refugees from the Vandal invasions. A Christian church in Elche may have been built on the site of a Jewish synagogue dating perhaps to the fourth century, retaining its mosaic floor and several inscriptions. Several Jewish inscriptions have been found in or near Tarragona, probably fifth or sixth century ce. The canons of numerous Spanish church councils, like those of Gaul, require Christians to regulate their interactions with local Jews, although the formulaic nature of all these decrees calls into question their utility as evidence for Jews in specific locations. Although the council of Elvira was held in the early fourth century, most Spanish councils date to the seventh century (JLSEMA pp. 482–538).

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Greece, the Balkan Peninsula and the North Coast of the Black Sea The usual literary suspects (Philo, Paul, Josephus, and Acts) collectively depict Jews living in numerous parts of Greece in the first century ce: Athens, Corinth, Philippi, Thessalonica, and elsewhere. For Jews living in Greece and the Balkan peninsula after the second century ce, much of the evidence is archaeological—often fairly minimal. A handful of Jewish epitaphs have been found at diverse locations in Athens (on the acropolis, built into the gate of a Marian church, etc.). Their dates range widely from the first century ce (IJO 1 Ach26, Ach32, Ach35) to the fourth, fifth, or sixth centuries ce (IJO 1 Ach28, Ach30, Ach34). A fragment of an inscription from a synagogue, that perhaps read “synagogue of the Hebrews,” was found at Corinth in the late nineteenth century. There is no consensus about its date. Subsequently, remains of a synagogue column were found during excavations of the Corinth theater, thought to be fifth century ce. Virtually no Jewish epitaphs are known from the city. The largest single assemblage of Jewish epitaphs from Greece comes from Larissa (Thessaly), including several found in the modern Jewish cemetery. Difficult to date, they may range from the first century ce to the sixth (IJO 1 Ach1–Ach14). Smaller numbers of inscriptions have been found at various other locations, also with widely ranging dates. Inscribed on the walls of the temple of Apollo at Delphi are hundreds of manumission agreements, all dating between the second century bce and the first century ce, recording the fictitious sale of an enslaved person to the deity. A few involve Jews. One frees a man named Ioudaios (IJO 1 Ach42). In another, a man also named Ioudaios frees a person named Amyntas (IJO 1 Ach44). Such documents, however, do not necessarily evidence Jewish inhabitants of Delphi, since people regularly traveled there to utilize the services of the temple. Substantial material evidence for Jewish settlement was discovered on the northern side of the Black Sea over a century ago, at Panticapeum (modern Kerch), Gorgippia (Anapa), and elsewhere (IJO 3, pp. 254–324), including a trove of additional manumission inscriptions, many of which date explicitly to the first or early second centuries ce. In these transactions, Jews are again both slaveholders and newly freed slaves. Sometimes, the local Jewish community acts as guardian of the newly freed person(s). The history of Jews in the region has been of relatively little interest to local scholars and whatever literature pertains to Jewish finds is often in Russian or other Slavic languages that Western scholars rarely know. The finds themselves, if not now lost, are either in local museums or even at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, and are relatively difficult for Western scholars to access. More recently, an American‐led team has argued that an older building beneath remains of a fifth‐century basilica at Chersonesus (Sevastopol) was originally a synagogue, based particularly on the incorporation of a limestone block with a menorah, lulav, and shofar, into the apse of the basilica.

Asia Minor Jewish inscriptions have been found from more than 70 sites across ancient Asia Minor (modern Turkey)—testimony, apparently, to the large numbers of Jews who lived there through at least the fifth century. The time when Jews first arrived there is uncertain.


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Josephus dates the settlement of Jews in the adjacent regions of Lydia and Phrygia (central Asia Minor) to sometime between 212 and 205/4 bce, claiming to cite documents showing that Antiochus III relocated two thousand Jewish families there, apparently in an effort to reduce unrest in the area (Ant. 12.148–153). Similarly, 1 Maccabees, probably composed in the late second or early first century bce, claims to quote from a letter to Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II from the Roman consul commending envoys of the Jews, which 1 Maccabees says was also sent to numerous other locations in Asia Minor and the Aegean islands (1 Macc. 15: 16–23). The letter thus implies, and scholars generally accept, that by the mid second century bce, Jews already resided in all these locations: Pergamum, Myndos, Halicarnassus and Knidus (Caria), Phaelis in Lycia, Side in Pamphylia and Cappadocia, as well as the Aegean islands of Delos, Samos, Rhodes, Cos, Crete, and Cyprus. Josephus knew 1 Maccabees and used it extensively, although he may not have known a copy with Chapter 15. Regardless, in Book 14 of his Judaean Antiquities, Josephus quotes extensively from what he says are mid‐first century bce imperial decrees affirming the rights of Jews living in major cities of Aegean Asia Minor: the coastal cities of Pergamom, Ephesos, and Miletus; the inland cities of Sardis, Laodicea, Tralles, and Halicarnassus; and the islands of Cos and Delos. Although many scholars take these decrees as more or less reliable, their authenticity cannot be determined. They are not corroborated in other sources and clearly serve the apologetic interests of their authors. Josephus is explicit that he proffers them because his credibility has been challenged. The writings that support his claims about Jews are found only among Jews (and “some other barbarian peoples”)—perhaps he even has in mind 1 Maccabees?—while the public nature of Roman decrees, exhibited in public spaces, makes them irrefutable (Ant. 14.187–198). These decrees grant to Jews various rights that the local cities have apparently denied them (to practice their ancestral religion generally, to observe the Sabbath, to be free from compulsory military service, to obtain their customary foods, to build prayer houses near the sea, and so forth). As noted earlier, the author of the Acts of the Apostles envisions Jews living in many of these same locations, but whether Acts is really an independent attestation of Jewish inhabitants is difficult to confirm and, quite possibly, its author had read Josephus. The Christian author of the Martyrdom of Pionius envisions Jews in mid‐third century ce Ephesus as antagonists of the martyr, but should be used cautiously as independent evidence for their presence. There is very little early material evidence of Jewish habitation of these locations, or elsewhere in Asia Minor. A list of participants contributing to a Dionysian festival in Iasos (Caria) in the second century bce includes one Niketas, son of Jason, a Jerusalemite. Perhaps uncomfortable with the idea of a Jew celebrating at such an event, some scholars have suggested that Niketas may have been from Jerusalem, but not a Jew. However, even if he was, his presence at such a festival does not demonstrate that there were Jews living in Iasos at the time (see also Burns, Chapter 14 and Lander, Chapter 27). A plaque commemorating the renovation of a synagogue that had originally been built with funds from a patron named Julia Severa attests to the presence of Jews living in Akmonia (in Phrygia), probably as early as the mid‐first century ce. A donor list from Smyrna (now Izmir) recognizes the gifts of those “who were formerly Ioudaioi,” perhaps meaning they had come from Judaea, dated to the early second century ce (IJO 2.40). Many ­inscriptions

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throughout Asia Minor thought to be Jewish are likely to date to the third century: a few even contain specific dates (e.g., IJO 2.177, IJO 2.182). An important stele from Aphrodisias contains two separate lists of persons associated with one or more Jewish association of some sort, now generally accepted to date on one face to the fourth ­century ce and on the other to the fifth (IJO 2.14). A considerable number of other inscriptions similarly date to these later centuries, while virtually no inscriptions appear much later than this. The distribution of inscriptions in Asia Minor is noteworthy. The Roman catacombs account for about three‐quarters of the inscriptions from all of Italy, while epitaphs from the Venosa catacombs constitute about 60% of Italian inscriptions outside Rome before the seventh century. However, in Asia Minor, few sites, whether large cities or small towns, have yielded more than a handful of epitaphs. The prominent exceptions are Hierapolis in Phrygia (modern Pammukkale), where more than 20 Jewish tombs dating particularly to the third century are interspersed among those of non‐Jews. Ten or so inscriptions attest to Jews living at Akmoneia (also in Phrygia), mostly dating to the mid‐third century. Later, and much farther east, a similar number of epitaphs attest to the presence of Jews in Corycos, in Cilicia, almost all dated to the fifth and perhaps sixth centuries ce. These, too, do not come from a dedicated Jewish burial site. All are interspersed with those of Christians and several commemorate members of occupational guilds. A significant number of Jewish inscriptions from Asia Minor are not funerary, but rather commemorate synagogue building projects or membership in various associations. The single largest cache of Jewish inscriptions from Asia Minor was discovered in 1962 as part of surface excavations of the ancient city of Sardis (Lydia), in a large building complex that was almost certainly a synagogue for several centuries. Most pertain to the building’s decoration and furnishings (IJO 2.53–145) and no Jewish burial site has yet been identified at Sardis. There is presently some debate about when and for how long the building, which was not originally a synagogue, was re‐purposed as such: it may have become a synagogue in the third or even fourth centuries, and remained in use at least through the fifth century, if not a little later. Synagogue sites in Asia Minor have also been identified at Priene (on the Aegean Coast) and at Andriake (in 2008, on the southern Mediterranean coast). Remains found at Limyra in 2012, east of Andriake, may also prove to be those of a synagogue, while debate continues unresolved over whether a church at Mopsuestia, in Cilicia, was previously a synagogue. Recent re‐excavation at Priene suggests the small synagogue may have been in use as late as the sixth or even early seventh centuries, while the Andriake synagogue was in use during the fifth century, but apparently not in the sixth. It is somewhat difficult to reconcile the apparent late dating and renovation of these sites with late Roman legislation from the early fifth century on, limiting the renovation and expansion of existing synagogues and forbidding the construction of new synagogues. Beyond these, inscriptions on fragments of synagogue buildings, or commemorating donations to synagogue projects, have been found in various places across Asia Minor, testimony to synagogues whose precise sites are now unknown: a door lintel at Hyllarima in Caria (IJO 2.20), part of a chancel screen at Myndos on the Carian peninsula (IJO 2.25), a water basin for a synagogue at Philadelphia in Lydia (IJO 2.49), a fountain for a synagogue at Side in Pamphylia (IJO 2.220), and others.


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Mediterranean Islands Yet again, both material and literary evidence points to the residence of Jews on all the major islands of the Mediterranean at some point in the first half of the first millenium, including the Balearics, Crete, Cyprus, Malta, Sicily, and Sardinia. No literary sources speak to the beginnings of Jewish settlements on Crete and Cyprus, but the passage noted earlier in I Maccabees implies the residence of Jews there already in the second century bce. Centuries later, Sokrates of Constantinople tells a strange tale of a Jewish messianic imposter on Crete in the mid‐fifth century, who persuaded many Jews on the island that he was a second Moses (Hist. Eccl. 7.38). Several late antique inscriptions from the island attest to the presence of Jews in Crete’s three major towns, including one for a woman identified as both an elder and the head of a synagogue association (IJO 1 Cre3). Several inscriptions attest to the presence of Jews before the first century ce (IJO 3 Cyp6–8). No Jewish inscriptions have been found for the next several centuries, an absence consistent both with a general lack of inscriptions from Cyprus in these centuries, but also with a report of Cassius Dio that Jews were banned from Cyprus after the Cyrene revolt during the reign of Trajan (Hist. Rom. 68.32). A few inscriptions dating to the fourth century or later gesture at a subsequent settlement of Jews on the island, especially a column from a building whose inscription suggests it may have been a synagogue (IJO 3 Cyp3). Several inscriptions from a catacomb on Malta similarly gesture at Jews living there in the fourth and/or fifth centuries, including an epitaph of a married couple who both held synagogal positions (JIWE 1.163). Jews appear to have lived on Aegina in the mid‐fourth century, based on two mosaic inscriptions from a synagogue on the island (IJO 1 Ach58; 59). It may have been destroyed in the fifth century, with a Byzantine church built close by. Last, a building on the island of Delos, long held and especially sacred to Athenians, has often been classified as a Jewish synagogue dating to the first century bce, but the evidence is ambiguous and this classification may well be wrong.

North Africa The evidence for Jews living in Roman North Africa is exceptionally problematic (Stern 2008). We have considerably less material evidence for Jews in North Africa than for Jews elsewhere in the Mediterranean. A cemetery at Carthage yielded slightly fewer than 50 epitaphs that may be Jewish. A mosaic floor of a large synagogue from Hamman Lif, dating probably to the mid‐sixth century, has been known since the end of the nineteenth century. A prominent center inscription commemorates its female patron. None of the modern editions of ancient Mediterranean Jewish inscriptions have covered North Africa. A minimal catalog assembles a hundred or so inscriptions of various sorts—including the Carthage epitaphs—dated from the first to the fifth centuries ce, usually with ­considerable imprecision (Le Bohec 1981). North African Christian writers (Tertullian, Cyprian, and Augustine) are generally more concerned with theological caricatures of Jews than with actual Jews living in the region. In the sixth century, Prokopios claims that the emperor Justinian forced the Jews of Boreium to become Christians, turning their

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s­ynagogue into a church, apparently in revenge for their support of his Gothic enemies (Buildings 6.2.21). Whether this particular absence of evidence is reliable evidence of absence is especially difficult to assess. The recent fortuitous discovery of a mosaic synagogue floor dating perhaps to the fifth century ce at Kelibia, somewhat to the east of Hamman Lif, raises the prospect that many more such synagogues may lie undetected at other sites (see also Lander, Chapter 27).

Antioch on the Orontes and Coastal Syria Ample literary evidence documents a substantial Jewish community at Antioch on the Orontes. As he does for Alexandria, Josephus claims that Alexander’s successor in Syria, Seleucus Nikator, granted Jews citizenship and full rights in Antioch, presumably from its foundation (Ant. 12.119). By Josephus’s own time, Antioch and its famous suburb, Daphne, had a substantial Jewish population. In the fourth century, the Christian preacher, John Chrysostom (the golden‐mouthed) railed at members of his congregation who attended festivals with Jews at their synagogues, particularly the fall festivals (Against the Jews). A late Byzantine chronographer recounts, however, that only a century later, rampaging circus faction members attacked Jews and their synagogues, and desecrated Jewish burial sites (John Malalas, Chronicle 15.15). We have virtually no material remains for Jewish habitation at Antioch, although mosaics from a Jewish synagogue at Apamea, about 60 miles away, were found in the 1930s. They are notable for the high percentage of donations from women (IJO 3 Syr55; 61; 62; 63; 64; 65; 66; 68; 71). The list of city decrees Josephus cites includes the coastal Syrian cities of Sidon, Tyre, and Ascalon (Ant. 14.190–210). Occasional inscriptions attest the presence of Jews at Sidon, Tyre, and various other locations on the Syrian coast and inland.

Why Jews Lived Where They Did During This Particular Thousand Years Given the inadequate and arbitrary quality of our evidence for the Jewish populations of the ancient Mediterranean, it is easy to formulate—but difficult to assess—explanations for why Jews lived where they seem to. Yet it is only with such explanations that the data becomes meaningful and significant. From the late Hellenistic period on, Jews seem to have settled across the Mediterranean for complex reasons, some of which were specific to Jews, while others were not. The numerous settlements of Jews in coastal towns and cities supports a hypothesis that Jews, like non‐Jews, deliberately availed themselves of commercial opportunities that accompanied the intentional spread of hellenistic culture from Alexander on. Other settlements may have been somewhat less voluntary, though not necessarily wholly coerced, such as the various instances where the successors of Alexander the Great settled persons of various ethnicities—almost certainly including Jews—around the Mediterranean for their own purposes. Such processes may account for the initial Jewish habitation of much of ancient Asia Minor and Egypt, including Alexandria, through the early Roman period.


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The large Jewish population in Rome, however, may mostly have had its beginnings in less benign circumstances. Philo says that already in the mid‐first century ce, most Jews in Rome were freedpersons, without further explanation. However, only a few decades later, some significant portion of Jews in Jerusalem and environs who survived the fighting and famine of the first‐century revolt against the empire were captured, force‐marched to Rome, and sold in the slave markets, although it seems impossible to calculate reasonable numbers. Presumably, most of these persons, or perhaps their children, were eventually freed, and found their way into at least the lower echelons of city inhabitants. The Jewish population of Rome may have been further enlarged by captives and refugees from the Cyrene revolt (115–117 ce) and the Bar Kokhba war (132–135 ce). So, too, the apparent decimation of the Jewish population in Alexandria and much of Egypt seems to have been the consequence of the ultimately failed Cyrene revolt. Its causes, in turn, have been linked to the fraught relations between the various ethnic populations—Greeks, Egyptians, and Jews themselves—dating back a century or more. Many factors that led Jews to remain in certain locations or move to new ones affected others equally. The entire region was, and is, prone to devastating earthquakes and other natural catastrophes, including famines, that could destroy entire small settlements and decimate larger cities. Changes in ecological systems, particularly the viability of harbors, could eventually undermine the economic viability of particular areas and send many residents in search of better conditions. Jews were unquestionably active participants in their several revolts against Rome in the late first and early second centuries, which had major consequences for Jewish habitation, but they had little control over the consequences of empire‐wide warfare. In the mid‐sixth century in particular, a perfect storm of volcanic eruptions, massive multiple earthquakes, and outbreaks of bubonic plague devastated much of the ancient Mediterranean population, in some instances depopulating entire regions, and forcing survivors to move elsewhere. Perhaps most significantly, though, the alignment of the Roman empire with Christian interests from the early fourth century on seems to have had significant implications for where Jews subsequently lived. Both Christian narratives and epigraphic evidence hint that Jews may sometimes have relocated in response to Christian pressures seeking their conversion, perhaps of their own volition, but perhaps under more direct compulsion. The decline of epigraphic and material evidence for Jewish habitation of many locations across the empire coincides with evidence not only for economic decline and ecological devastation but also with Christian efforts to convert the remaining non‐Christian population by whatever means were required. It is also rather striking that the only major city for which we have no meaningful evidence of Jewish habitation is Constantinople, founded by Constantine himself as the new capital of a Christian empire.

ABBREVIATIONS Cod. Theod.  Codex Theodosianus CPJ Corpus Papyrorum Judaicarum, Victor Teherikover, Alexander Fuks, and Menahem (eds.), 3 vols. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1957–1964.

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Greek and Latin Authors on Jews and Judaism, Menachem Stern (ed.), 3 vols. Jerusalem: Israel Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1976–1984. IJO Inscriptiones Judaicae Orientis, Mohr Siebeck, 3 vols. Tübingen, 2004. Vol. 1: Eastern Europe. D. Noy, A. Panayotov and H. Bloedhorn (eds.); Vol. 2: Asia Minor. W. Ameling (ed.); Vol. 3: Syria and Cyprus. D. Noy and H. Boedhorn (eds.). JIGRE Jewish Inscriptions of Greco‐Roman Egypt, Williams Horbury and David Noy (eds.). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University, 1992. JIWE The Jewish Inscriptions of Western Europe, David Noy (ed.), 2 vols. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University, 1993. JLSEMA The Jews in the Legal Sources of the Early Middle Ages, Amnon Linder (ed.). Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1997. JRIL The Jews in Roman Imperial Legislation, Amnon Linder (ed.). Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1987. GLAJJ

NOTES 1 Scholars have recently argued over whether the English term “Jews” is the best designation for these persons. Here I accede to the usage of the volume: for some of the arguments; see Mason (2007), JAJ 2.2 (2011), Baker (2017), and Furstenburg, Chapter 11 in this volume. 2 For the best information, go to http://www.catacombsociety.org/jewish‐catacombs.

REFERENCES Baker, Cynthia M. (2017). Jew. Key Words in Jewish Studies. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. Bradbury, Scott (ed.) (1996). Severus of Minorca. Letter on the Conversion of the Jews. Oxford Early Christian Texts. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Horbury, Williams and Noy, David (eds.) (1992). Jewish Inscriptions of Greco‐Roman Egypt. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University. Kraemer, Ross Shepard (2020). The Mediterranean Diaspora in Late Antiquity: What Christianity Cost the Jews. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press. Le Bohec, Yves (1981). Inscriptions juives et judaïsantes de l’Afrique romaine. Antiquitiés Africaines 17 (1): 165–207. Levine, Lee I. (2005). The Ancient Synagogue. 2e. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. Levine, Lee I. (2012). Visual Judaism in Late Antiquity: Historical Contexts of Jewish Art. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. Linder, Amnon (ed.) (1987). The Jews in Roman Imperial Legislation. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. Linder, Amnon (ed.) (1997). The Jews in the Legal Sources of the Early Middle Ages. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. Mason, Steve (2007). Jews, Judeans, Judaizing, Judaism: problems of categorization in ancient history. Journal for the Study of Judaism 38 (4–5): 457–512.


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Noy, David (ed.) (1993–1995). The Jewish Inscriptions of Western Europe, 2 vols. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University. Noy, David, A. Panayotov, H. Boedhorn and W. Ameling (eds.) (2004). Inscriptiones Judaicae Orientis, 3 vols. Tübingen. Porten, Bezalel, with Farber, J.J., Martin, C.J., Vittman, G., et al. (eds.) (2011). The Elephantine Papyri in English: Three Millennia of Cross‐Cultural Continuity and Change. 2e. Leiden: Brill; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature. Stern, Menachem (ed.) (1976–1984). Greek and Latin Authors on Jews and Judaism, 3 vols. Jerusalem: Israel Academy of Arts and Sciences. Stern, Karen B. (2008). Inscribing Devotion and Death: Archaeological Evidence for Jewish Populations of North Africa. Leiden: Brill. Tcherikover, Victor, Fuks, Alexander, and Stern, Menahem (eds.) (1957–1964). Corpus Papyrorum Judaicarum, 3 vols. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Werlin, Steven H. (2015). Ancient Synagogues of Southern Palestine, 300–800 CE: Living on the Edge. The Brill Reference Library of Judaism 47. Leiden: Brill. Zeev, Ben and Pucci, Miriam (2005). Diaspora Judaism in Turmoil, 116/117 CE: Ancient Sources and Modern Insights. Leuven: Peeters.


Jewish Towns and Neighborhoods in Roman Palestine and Persian Babylonia Mika Ahuvia Introduction Though they were a minority in antiquity, Jews have left traces of their existence throughout the Mediterranean world, from the Italian peninsula to North Africa to Asia Minor as well as into Syria and Babylonia (modern day Iran and Iraq). Attempting to follow the footsteps of ancient Jews to their dwelling places in antiquity requires treading on a fine line between research and speculation. While archaeologists, historians, and talmudists have made great strides in recent years, much territory remains uncharted or unchartable. Our most substantial source, rabbinic literature, addresses geographical questions only incidentally, as the rabbis pursue answers to legal questions, and mostly in urban settings where the rabbis resided after the second century ce (Cohen 1992, reprint 2010; Lapin 2012). Although research on Jewish life in antiquity has been dominated by studies of rabbinic literature, particularly in cities, most Jews were not part of the rabbinic movement and did not reside in urban settings. Moreover, recent research suggests that non‐rabbinic Jews may have had different practices and emphasized different aspects of the biblical heritage in everyday life. Indeed, ancient Jews were a diverse and geographically diffuse population who resided mostly in rural towns and villages. Broadening our scope to include neglected non‐rabbinic and/or non‐urban Jews enlivens and destabilizes the normative picture of pre‐medieval Jews living under rabbinic authority in densely populated quarters. A fuller and more dynamic view of the past allows us to see Jews dwelling in a variety of settings and drawing on a wider range of resources than rabbinic literature alone.

A Companion to Late Ancient Jews and Judaism: Third Century bce to Seventh Century ce, First Edition. Edited by Naomi Koltun-Fromm and Gwynn Kessler. © 2020 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published 2020 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


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Summary of Scholarly Debate and Methodological Issues Reconstructing Jewish life in the villages, towns, and cities of Roman Palestine and Persian Babylonia requires careful navigation of rabbinic sources as well as attention to archaeological, epigraphic, and lesser‐known liturgical and literary texts. Archaeological sources consist of the remains of ancient places of dwelling, funerary remains, synagogues, or small artefacts like amulets and incantation bowls. Epigraphic sources consist of Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew inscriptions. Rabbinic literature may be supplemented by references to Jews in the writings of Roman jurists, Christian church leaders, and Syriac and Persian writers. Each of these sources presents its own challenges. To begin we must recognize the partial evidence and perspective supplied by r­ abbinic literature. The current scholarly consensus is that the rabbinic movement was composed of a tiny fraction of Jews and that their customs, laws, and way of life did not become influential until the medieval period. Even correlating the rabbis named in rabbinic literature with those named in inscriptions from Palestine has proven fraught, with some scholars arguing that the title of “rabbi” predates the rabbinic movement, continues with multiple valences through Antiquity, and that most inscriptions postdate the rabbis mentioned in the Talmud (Cohen 1981; Lapin 2011). Others, however, disagree, arguing that the distinction is overly rigid and does not account for all of the existing evidence (Hezser 2010; Miller 2004). In either case, the majority of Jews in Late Antiquity were likely unaware of the sages and their endeavors, and therefore relying on rabbinic literature alone for a comprehensive view of ancient Jews and Judaism proves insufficient. The traditional rabbino‐centric chronology, which assumes Jewish life in Roman Palestine suffered a decline after the mid‐fourth century (when the Palestinian Talmud was completed), has been undermined by archaeological sources (Bar 2004; Magness and Schindler 2015). Bringing into view the blossoming of Hebrew liturgical poetry, Jewish Palestinian midrashic compilations, funerary inscriptions, and the construction of monumental synagogues in rural Galilee beginning in the fourth and fifth centuries necessitates a different picture of Jewish habitation in Late Antiquity, one that acknowledges Jewish vitality, diversity, and continuity within the Roman Empire. Identifying Jews by their names (prosopographically) in inscriptions is standard, but is hardly without difficulty since Jews, especially women, often had foreign names that did not necessarily signal their Jewish identity (Ilan 2012). Already underrepresented in literary and historical sources, Jewish women prove difficult to identify in archaeological sources as well, but scholars ought not to assume their absence, thus further rendering them invisible in Jewish history (Ilan 2010; Baker 2002). Identifying Jewish places hinges on the discovery of Jewish architecture or artefacts (e.g., synagogues or miqva’ot, [immersion pools]) or Jewish inscriptions (identified by Jewish symbols like a menorah or names) or correlating archaeological ruins with sites known from literary sources (see Stern, Chapter 7, and Baker, Chapter 8). In Roman and Byzantine-period Palestine, we can distinguish cities, towns, and villages in terms of their size (cf. Hebrew kerakh, ‘ir, and kfr; Killebrew 2010; note that one ­hectare is equivalent to 10,000 square meters or about 2.5 acres). Caesarea Maritima and

Jewish Towns and Neighborhoods in Roman Palestine and Persian Babylonia


Scythopolis (modern Beth Shean) measured about 125 hectares and 95 hectares, respectively, and were on a par with other great cities of the empire like Antioch and Carthage (Zagenberg and van de Zande 2010). Towns could have some of the same trappings as cities but were significantly smaller in size. Sepphoris and Tiberias are estimated to have been about 60 to 80 hectares in size and so one can find scholars calling them both cities and towns (Lapin 2001 prefers cities; Magness 2012 prefers towns). In either case, Sepphoris and Tiberias were comparable with medium‐sized cities like Gerasa, Milan, and Aphrodisias (Perkins 1998). Sepphoris and Tiberias were the only significant urban centers in the predominantly Jewish Galilee (Leibner 2009). Ein Gedi in the Negev was a smaller Jewish town measuring about 40 hectares in size. Jewish villages were composed of a few households or up to 5 hectares with a central square and a synagogue (like Qasrin, discussed below). The relationship of Jewish towns and rural villages, whether a model of dependence or independence is more appropriate, remains an open question governed more by theoretical speculation than hard data (see Lapin 2001, Schwartz 2006, Killebrew 2010, and Zagenberg and van de Zande 2010). Prior to the revolts of the first and second centuries, it appears that the Jewish quarter of Alexandria had the highest level of Jewish population density of any place in the Mediterranean (Gruen 2002, p. 259); little demographic data is available for the Late Antique period (Baron 2007) (see Kraemer, Chapter  2, for a deeper discussion of the remains). Jerusalem will not be discussed here as it was closed off to Jews from the end of the first century ce into the seventh (see Kattan Gribetz, Chapter 28). The exact ethnic and religious make‐up of towns and cities in Roman Palestine is not recoverable, though it is generally accepted that urban centers had mixed populations while villages tended toward more homogeneity. Archaeological surveys of villages in Roman Palestine have made it evident that the majority of the Jewish population lived in small rural settlements, rather than in urban centers (Killebrew 2010). Unfortunately, no specific archaeological evidence is available to provide concrete data for Jewish sites of habitation in Babylonia. Investigation of Babylonian Jewish settlements, therefore, requires an analysis of rabbinic literature and contemporaneous Syriac and Persian sources (Secunda 2014) (see Mokhtarian, Chapter 9, on this material culture). The main methodological challenge facing all investigators of this topic lies in correlating the literary, documentary, and archaeological data (Hezser 2010). Where rabbinic literature was once treated as a treasure trove of information for which archaeological data could serve as confirmation, scholars today recognize that this approach is untenable (Hezser 2010, p. 17). Some scholars privilege readings of rabbinic texts over material evidence, seeking areas of convergence or opportunities to harmonize disparate sorts of evidence, but this too proves problematic. The documents of rabbinic literature are complex, layered, and edited works with literary and ideological intentions and long transmission histories; they are not reliable records of daily life, geography, or history and should not be treated as such. Those who would work with the rabbinic sources must grapple with their redactional tendencies and inherent limitations, not elide them. To paraphrase a well‐known warning from biblical archaeology, one cannot reconstruct the past with a trowel in one hand and the Talmud in the other. Archaeological evidence often brings to light Jewish interests that are not elaborated by the rabbis. In the Late Roman Galilean village of Huqoq, synagogue mosaics depicting


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Samson point to a regional interest in biblical heroes and messianic expectations not ­discussed in the Talmud (Magness et al. 2014, p. 351) (see Figure 8.1). In cases such as this, neglected Palestinian compositions like liturgical poetry or non‐canonical texts like Sefer Zerubabel may help deepen our understanding of non‐rabbinic Jewish preoccupations in late antiquity like messianism (Himmelfarb 2017). Such findings also remind us not to be overly urban‐centric, assuming all religious innovation originated in cities. Jews living in villages in the Galilee, Negev, or Mesopotamia may have been just as creative as their urban counterparts in Sepphoris or Mahoza. To the list of neglected sources, we might add so‐called magical or ritual objects like amulets and incantation bowls (Naveh and Shaked 1987, 1993). Amulets are mentioned only in passing in rabbinic literature, but many Jewish amulets have been found in excavations in Palestine (or on the antiquities market without provenance), attesting to Jewish engagement with ritual practices. Foregoing the loaded baggage of a term like magic, we can better understand how Jewish ritual practices and ritual practitioners figured in the late antique landscape, both in cities and villages. Amulets discovered in synagogue genizahs are especially important as they locate ritual objects that might be marginalized in the heart of accepted Jewish houses of prayer. Moreover, they attest to a belief among some Jews in angelic guardianship (Ahuvia 2014). Jewish Aramaic incantation bowls from Nippur also attest to a Babylonian Jewish ritual strategy to combat demons (see Mokhtarian, Chapter 9, and Ronis, Chapter 24). Historians have mentioned in passing that the world of Jews was full of demons and angels (Schwartz 2001), but Peter Brown’s description of ancient Christian belief in an “invisible world” that “was magnificently sociable,” and “a ‘great city’ crowded with angelic spirits” may well have held true for some Jews as well (Brown 1988, p. 171; Ahuvia 2021). Seeing the full picture of Jewish life in towns and villages requires making space for this other‐worldly realm as well. To understand Jewish life in ancient places, surviving evidence must be studied in its regional and multicultural context, be it Hellenistic Egypt, Byzantine Palestine, or Persian Babylonia (Hezser 2010). There was no “pure,” isolated, monolithic Jewish culture or Jewish place in antiquity. This means that even in the predominantly Jewish towns in Roman Palestine like Sepphoris or Tiberias, we ought not to be surprised by Jewish attendance at Roman entertainment venues, the prevalence of Roman statues and sculptures that Jews would have encountered when they walked about town (Eliav 2002), and the likelihood that Jewish craftsmen and builders would be influenced by monumental church architecture when they constructed synagogues. In Jewish Babylonia, Jews worked with, disputed with, and even married their Sasanian Persian counterparts, which the rabbis there both accepted and criticized (Secunda 2014). That the rabbis participated in their regional milieu is accepted (Kalmin 2006; Lapin 2012), but similar acknowledgment that non‐rabbinic Jews adapted others’ practices while remaining Jewish still lags behind. As Hezser states, “[a]ncient Jews used and amalgamated customs and habits from the surrounding cultures, and this very amalgamation was Jewish, even if non‐rabbinic” (2010). The importance of interdisciplinary research is well known, and the input of sociologists, anthropologists, ethnographers, and cultural historians may help to fill the gaps, but inferences must also be acknowledged and interrogated (Hezser 2010, p. 20). Letting tensions stand to create a more open‐ended description of ancient history may prove to be more

Jewish Towns and Neighborhoods in Roman Palestine and Persian Babylonia


productive as the following survey of Jewish dwellings aims to demonstrate. I begin with Jewish dwellings in villages, towns, and cities of Roman Palestine and then turn to sites of Jewish habitation in Syria and Babylonia.

Roman and Byzantine Palestine The Levant was one of the most urbanized regions of the Mediterranean world in antiquity, but the Hellenistic period brought significant and enduring architectural expectations to bear on inhabitants of cities and towns everywhere. Herod famously fulfilled such expectations, laying the foundation upon which later inhabitants of Roman Palestine was built. Monumental architecture like colonnaded streets, marketplaces (agora or forums), aqueducts, bathhouses, theaters, hippodromes, and stadia formed the urban background that Jews and others in Roman Palestine shared (Zangenberg and van de Zande 2010). Although the historiography has been dominated by studies of urban centers, scholars have pointed out that most people in antiquity lived in villages, not towns or cities (summarized in Meyers 1999). Following the failed revolts, it is generally agreed that the Jewish population that remained in Palestine shifted northward to the Galilee, Golan Heights, and the coast (although some moved south of Jerusalem as well). Thanks to the emperor Constantine and his descendants, many places in Palestine became visibly Christian in public architecture, starting in the fourth century. After a period of crisis in the third to fourth century, the eastern Roman Empire experienced relative prosperity and population growth in the fifth and sixth centuries. In Palestine, this manifested as stabilization and resettlement (Leibner 2009) (see Figure 3.1). Surveys in recent decades have uncovered hundreds of villages throughout late antique Syro‐Palestine, some separated only by a stream or valley and some by a mile or more (Schwartz 2001; Bar 2004; Leibner 2009). As previously mentioned, villages could range in size from a few farmhouses to five hectares and revolved around agricultural production and household crafts (Killebrew 2010) (see Mandsager, Chapter  30). Rural houses were built around courtyards, which served as the locus of activity, and as families grew and married, additional domestic units would be added on to houses so that they became multi‐generational compounds that might be lived in for centuries (Killebrew 2010). Villages generally included a central public space, where the synagogue was the only monumental structure and served multiple functions (e.g., place of gathering, learning, and adjudicating). If a tradition preserved in the Palestinian Talmud is to be believed, villagers sought communal leaders who could serve multiple functions in such synagogues: giving homilies, judging cases, teaching Torah and Mishnah, and doing whatever else was needed by the community (cf. people of Simonias in y. Yeb. 12:7, 13a; cf. y. Shev. 6:1, 36d). Lapin suggests that villagers would turn to local towns and urban patrons to find such “trained ritual experts” (Lapin 1998, p. 60). The plateau of the Golan, circumscribed by the Jordan River and Sea of Galilee to the west and the Huron River to the east, measures about 1800 square kilometers and was home to many Jewish and later Christian communities in Late Antiquity. Aside from the Greco‐Roman city of Hippos‐Sussita, located opposite Tiberias on the hills to the east of the Sea of the Galilee, the rest of the Golan was rural in its settlement pattern. The Galilee and the Golan display a shared material culture and appear to have been mostly inhabited by Jews until the Byzantine period when more Christian communities appeared on the


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Figure 3.1  Overview of Beit Shean. Roman Theater Beit She’an, 1 March 2013. Source: Avraham Graicer. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:ROMAN_THEATER_BEIT_SHE%27AN.JPG. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

scene (Meyers 1999). The rabbis have little to say about the inhabitants of the Golan so archaeologists must rely on material evidence to reconstruct a picture of generally harmonious symbiosis between the villages of Aramaic‐speaking Jews and Greek‐speaking Christians in that region (Meyers 1999). The remains of 25 synagogues from the late antique Golan region attest to the flourishing of Jews there in the late antique period. The ancient Jewish village of Qasrin may be seen as exemplary. Located in the heart of the Golan, Qasrin’s first synagogue and its associated residential areas were probably built in the late‐third to mid‐fourth century ce (Hachlili 2013, p. 110). The synagogue of Qasrin, one of the best preserved in the Golan, shows a distinctive local style not found outside the Golan, especially in its column decoration (Hachlili 2013). In Qasrin, residential and commercial buildings could be found immediately adjacent to the synagogue. The residential buildings “encompassed several individual domestic units that were joined over time to create a large multi‐family complex” (Betlyon and Killebrew 2016, p. 36). Though rural, Qasrin was hardly isolated: a Roman military station was established nearby in Bostra and the ancient King’s Highway “crossed the Golan Heights, connecting villages like Qasrin to Damascus and Mesopotamia” (Betlyon and Killebrew 2016, p. 39). This might explain why the third largest coin hoard ever found in the region (9000 coins, many of them of military issue, dating to the reigns of Constantine’s sons) was found in the courtyard of a house there, buried in a pit (Betlyon and Killebrew 2016). Coin hoards of this

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type were not unusual in the Roman‐Byzantine Empire, whose monetary policies ­sometimes led to inflation and economic instability. Though on the periphery of the empire, Qasrin was not immune to the impact of imperial policies (see Figure 3.2). The Palestinian Talmud mentions that Judah HaNasi, the famous patriarch and redactor of the Mishnah, had estates in the Golan, gifted to him by a Roman emperor (y. Shev. 6: 1, 36d). In this connection it is worth mentioning that the only extant archaeological evidence for the existence of a study house connected to a rabbi was found in a village north of Qasrin named Dabura; a fourth-century ce basalt lintel found there has two ­stylized birds holding a wreath with the inscription “this is the beit midrash study house of Rabbi Eliezer ha‐kappar” (Lapin 2011, p. 334). This inscription is not easily correlated with named rabbis known from the Talmud. While the inscription suggests some rabbinic study was taking place in the Golan (in a permanently marked, if not monumental, building), it is ironic that no rabbinic traditions can confirm it. From an ancient village south of Qasrin, just to the northeast of the Sea of Galilee and now known as Horvat Kanaf, an additional interesting object has survived. Dating to the sixth or early seventh century, an amulet written in Hebrew and Aramaic commands demons not to “cause pain to Rabbi Eleazar the son of Esther, the servant of the God of Heaven” and goes on to enlist numerous angels to protect him from evil spirits and cure him from fever (Naveh and Shaked 1987, p. 51). The language of the amulet, “in every place where this amulet will be seen, you should not detain Eleazar the son of Esther,” suggests that not only was the amulet a visible accessory but also that the person who wore it expected encounters with an other‐worldly realm filled with malicious and benevolent spirits. It is not possible to determine whether this Eleazar was a member of the rabbinic movement or if the title was being used honorifically. In any case, the fact that such an individual needed such an amulet suggests that peaceful connotations we have about village life may not have matched up to



A2 I

A3 B5 B3


B4 B2




c==– m

Figure 3.2  Map of Qasrin. Source: Killebrew, Grantham and Fine (2003, p. 60).


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a late ancient person’s experience of such places. Lest one think this amulet was an anomaly, similar amulets have been discovered in many excavations all over Palestine, including 19 Aramaic and Hebrew bronze amulets discovered in the apse of a synagogue in Maon‐Nirim in the northwest Negev, which similarly attack demons and call on God and angels for assistance (Naveh and Shaked 1987). Although we can identify Jewish villages in the Golan, the Dabura inscription and this amulet (alongside many more amulets without provenance) remind us of the remaining gaps in our knowledge about the past. Shifting from villages on the shores of the Sea of Galilee to a town on the shore of the Dead Sea, we come to Ein Gedi. Although the fourth-century ce Christian bishop Eusebius refers to Ein Gedi as a “very large village of the Jews,” by scholarly standards, Ein Gedi can be classified as a town, located in the Judaean desert on the central‐western banks of the Dead Sea (Onomasticon 86.18; Killebrew 2010). Ein Gedi possessed not just a central synagogue with residential dwellings but also a street of shops, agricultural and water installations, and even a bathhouse (Hirschfeld 2007). The Ein Gedi community has been called conservative because its synagogue mosaics avoid the figural depictions so well known from synagogues in Sepphoris and elsewhere in the Galilee. Instead of artistic representation of a zodiac, for example, a long inscription located in the aisle of Ein Gedi’s synagogue listed the zodiac signs as well as the calendar months and even biblical genealogies before conveying a strong warning to all members (Levine 2005, p. 386): He who causes dissension within the community, or speaks slanderously about his friend to the Gentiles, or steals something from his friend, or reveals the secret of the community to the Gentiles—He, whose eyes observe the entire world and who sees hidden things, will turn His face to this fellow and his offspring and will uproot them from under the heavens. And all the people said: Amen, Amen, Selah.

This text displays a strong sense of insider–outsider relations and has generated much speculation about the substance of the town’s secrets, which some think are religious in nature and others argue are economic, having to do with trade secrets regarding the ­production of dates that made Ein Gedi so successful (see Figure 3.3). Only the synagogue mosaic of Rehov, a village located in the Beth Shean valley, had a longer inscription than Ein Gedi. The focus of Rehov’s central inscription, however, was the regulation of communal life with regard to agricultural laws of tithing “in almost direct quotation of the Palestinian Talmud as we have it today” (Price and Misgav 2006). The inscription provides the rabbinic conceptualization of the boundaries of the land of Israel, detailing where the laws of tithing apply as well as a list of the vegetables and fruits that must be tithed and/or avoided during sabbatical years. Rehov is one of the few places where we can see people striving to live in accordance with rabbinic law. While Rehov’s synagogue mosaics reveal the pious ideals of a village in the northern valleys, Ein Gedi’s mosaics convey the anxious self‐consciousness of a town in the southern desert. They share an aniconic tendency, but these two communities still proffer very different expressions of what was on the minds of Jews in late antiquity. The Jewish cities par excellence known from rabbinic sources were Sepphoris in central Galilee and Tiberias on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. The foundation of both these ­cities was decidedly Roman and Jewish. Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great, ­renovated the Hasmonean‐era town of Sepphoris to make it “the ornament of all Galilee”

Jewish Towns and Neighborhoods in Roman Palestine and Persian Babylonia


Figure 3.3  Ein Gedi, reconstruction of the town. Source: Hirschfield (2007, p. 641).

and also founded Tiberias as a new capital, naming it for the emperor Tiberius, much like his father had built Caesarea in honor of Augustus Caesar (Josephus, Ant. 18: 27; Magness 2012). Only Jewish revolts brought imperial attention to these otherwise relatively unimportant Roman cities. The emperor Nero intervened in local politics to make Sepphoris (instead of Tiberias) the capital of the Galilee just before the outbreak of the first rebellion; in the second century ce, the emperor Hadrian renamed Sepphoris Diocaesarea; and, finally, in the mid‐fourth century these two cities along with Diospolis (Lydda) were reportedly punished for participating in a regional rebellion (Jerome Chronicon 282; no archaeological evidence confirms his report). From a rabbinic standpoint, Sepphoris became significant as the administrative seat of the patriarchs, most famously Judah HaNasi, who is credited with redacting the Mishnah, a text that is at the heart of the rabbinic movement. Just a few miles from Nazareth, Jesus’ reputed birthplace, Sepphoris also became home to a significant Christian community and bishop by the sixth century. Sepphoris is representative of the local Jewish‐Hellenistic cultural milieu, boasting recognizably Jewish structures and Roman buildings as well as places that transcend such categorization. Many miqva’ot (immersion pools for Jewish ritual purification purposes) have been excavated in Sepphoris, and though while they were once of particular importance to priests, in the centuries following the destruction of the Temple they became a part of the life of ordinary men and women as well. Sepphoris likely also had multiple synagogues (cf. the Synagogue of the Babylonians discussed below) in addition to the one that has been excavated with its famous mosaic of Helios in the zodiac (Miller 2004; Weiss et al. 2005). In addition, Sepphoris had paved roads, a theater, a bathhouse, and Roman‐ style homes decorated with wall paintings and lavish mosaics, arranged with shops at the front and peristyle gardens at the center (Magness 2012). One scholar has even demonstrated how the so‐called houses of Dionysos and Orpheus in Sepphoris illuminate discussions of rabbis in the Mishnah and Tosefta, suggesting that these homes or ones like them may have been owned by rabbis (Klein 2012).


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In addition to rabbis, priests, and ordinary Jews of Sepphoris, we ought to bring to mind the liturgical poets and prayer leaders, who performed in the synagogues of late antiquity, embellishing the fixed prayer with dramatic song related to the lectionary cycle (Levine 2005; Lieber 2010). As home to some of the most wealthy and educated Jews of the ­province, Sepphoris and Tiberias likely had audiences that could understand and appreciate the rich Hebrew language of the liturgical poets. These poetic compositions are also noteworthy for their emphasis on angels and other divine creatures, singing in harmony with the congregation when it prays to God (Lieber 2010) (see also Lieber, Chapter 29). Finally, the uncovering of amulets in Sepphoris, as elsewhere, reminds us that other ritual practitioners were on the scene as well, and that Jews in ancient urban centers had many mediating authorities to whom they could appeal: from rabbis to priests to prayer leaders and ­ritual practitioners. There may have been competition and overlap among these figures (the liturgical poet who signed his name Shimeon haCohen beiRebbi Mages may not have been exceptional in identifying himself by his priestly lineage and association with the rabbis). Overall, holding space for these different figures of authority as well as their invisible angelic counterparts in the ancient city enriches our understanding of ancient Jewish life, showing us the many ways ancient Jews put into practice their shared biblical heritage. As previously mentioned, Tiberias was founded as a capital by Herod Antipas, but later lost its status to Sepphoris. Tiberias is less well excavated than Sepphoris, but a few comments about this Jewish town are worth noting. Ancient Tiberias, just south of modern Tiberias, stretched “1,200 meters along the shore of the Sea of Galileee and reach[ed] some 250 meters inland on average” (Broshi 1999, reprint 2008, p. 20). Today tourists visit the sites just south of the ancient town on the sea of Galilee, where archaeologists uncovered a bathhouse complex that took advantage of local hot springs (hammat Tiberias; see Figure 29.2) and a well‐preserved synagogue mosaic of a personified Helios holding a globe and a whip (Magness 2012). Like Sepphoris, ancient Tiberias was a Roman‐Jewish town with monumental buildings like palaces, basilicas, a stadium, a ­hippodrome, bathhouses, main streets that led to an agora, as well as a synagogue. In antiquity, the town was fortified with walls and gates with round towers. From a rabbinic perspective, ancient Tiberias displaced Sepphoris in prominence in Late Antiquity, becoming the setting for the school of Rabbi Yohanan in the third century and later, and for the redaction of the Palestinian Talmud. Scholars have observed that amoraic traditions reflect details of rabbinic life for the most part in urbanized settings like Sepphoris and Tiberias. One story from the Palestinian Talmud illustrates this observation, mentioning these two cities while inquiring into what distance a person ought to have walked in new shoes in order to make them permissible for wear on the Sabbath (y. Shab. 6 [8a]) = y. Sanh. 10: 1, 28a). Rather than providing a standard unit of measure, the answers are based on local landmarks: The sons of the daughter of bar Kappara say: “From the study house of Bar Kappara to the study house of R. Hoshaya.” The Sepphoreans say: “From the synagogue of the Babylonians to the dwelling of R. Hama b. Hanina.” The Tiberians say: “From the large colonnade to the store of R. Hoshaya.”

Jewish Towns and Neighborhoods in Roman Palestine and Persian Babylonia


Three groups respond to the legal query: first, the sons of a daughter of a scholar (a description that reminds us of women’s mediated presence in ancient sources), and second and thirdly, the residents of Sepphoris and Tiberias. The first group takes for granted that hearers of this tradition would know where these study houses were located, but scholars disagree: Hayim Lapin places both in the southern city of Lydda, associated in talmudic sources with post‐revolt generations of rabbis and a geographically significant urban center throughout history; Lee Levine asserts the study houses were located in Caesarea, the most cosmopolitan city in Roman Palestine where the earliest part of the Talmud was edited (see more on Caesarea below); others, like Joseph Naveh and R.C. Gregg think the two study houses relate to the inscription found in the Golan mentioned above (Lapin 1998). Regardless of who is right, the fact that scholars can amass evidence for each of these very different locations reflects how difficult it is to locate ancient Jews, even the rabbis, who are the Jews for whom we have the most extant literary evidence from Late Antiquity. Leaving that scholarly disagreement aside, the second and third answers from Sepphoreans and Tiberians in the above passage reveals more interesting information as well. Those dwelling in the city of Sepphoris cite their own local city geography, referencing the distance from the synagogue of the Babylonians to the home of a particular scholar. The appellation “of the Babylonians” in Sepphoris reminds us of the ongoing relationship between the Jews of Palestine and the Jews of Babylonia: the Jews of Babylonia, who traced their presence in Mesopotamia back to the destruction of the First Temple in 586 bce, were proud of their heritage, and their rabbis placed themselves on par with, if not higher than, the rabbis of Palestine. This synagogue name may suggest that they maintained a sense of distinction even when dwelling and praying among co‐religionists in Palestine (see Burns, Chapter 14). Finally, we may note that the residents of Tiberias use a local Hellenistic architectural landmark, a colonnade, composed of Greek‐style columns that served as fronts for temples, palaces, or other civic purposes. The Tiberians measure distance from the large colonnade to a place of commerce, a store operated by R. Hoshaya, which may have been in the marketplace or may have been at his home, as much economic activity in the ancient world operated from household courtyards (see Warren, Chapter 25). Another tradition in the Babylonian Talmud mentions Rabbi Hoshaya and Rabbi Hanina plying their trade as cobblers in the market of the prostitutes. If this tradition is accurate, then the market of the prostitutes was also in Tiberias and it was well known that Rabbi Hoshaya worked as a cobbler there. Such a story reminds us of the rabbis’ embeddedness in the realities of late antique provincial urban life (b. Pes. 113b; Schwartz 2006). An arterial road connected Tiberias with cities to the east, crossing the Jordan River to reach Gadara and thence Bostra in Arabia (Isaac 2010). While going west, this road passed Sepphoris‐Diocaesarea and continued on to the Roman port‐city of Ptolemais (Akko in Hebrew, ancient Acre in Greek) on the Mediterranean Sea (Avi‐Yonah, et al. 2007). Refounded as a Roman colony during the first Jewish War, Ptolemais boasted two harbors. Although Caesarea Maritima would become the more prosperous port, Ptolemais was still convenient for travelers from the Galilee, and hence it is mentioned in passing in several rabbinic traditions (y. Abod. Zar. 1 :4 39d, y. Hal. 4: 12, 39b; y. Shev. 6: 1, 36c) and serves as the setting for the famous story of Rabbi Gamaliel visiting a bath dedicated to Aphrodite (m. Abod. Zar. 3: 4). From a rabbinic perspective, Akko was located at the border of the


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Holy Land (m. Git. 1: 2; Avi‐Yonah 2007), yet this seems not to have affected Jewish ­settlement in this predominantly Roman city. An ancient visitor to the province of Judaea heading toward central Judaea or Jerusalem may well have arrived by sea at Caesarea Maritima, a city founded in honor of Caesar Augustus by Herod the Great, and which soon became the designated seat of the Roman provincial administration. Josephus vividly describes Caesarea as a place rife with tensions between Jews and non‐Jews, intensified by close living quarters, as well as synagogues located next to gentile dwellings (Josephus, J.W. 2.284). Built on a grid‐like pattern in so far as possible given the uneven terrain, Caesarea boasted a stadium, an amphitheater, many Greco‐Roman temples, synagogues, aqueducts, and other monumental architecture, whose archaeological remains draw visitors to this day (Zangenberg and van de Zande 2010). In rabbinic sources, Caesarea is also described as a site of Jewish and non‐Jewish confrontation, but mainly in the discursive realm: Rabbi Abahu explains to so‐called minim (lit. heretics, a term reserved for non‐Jews, whether apostates or Christians or others) that the Palestinian rabbis, unlike their Babylonian counterparts, are daily in conversation with others and so they invest more in learning biblical exegesis (b. Abod. Zar. 4a). Another story from the Palestinian Talmud shows Rabbi Abahu adjudicating cases in a synagogue in Caesarea by himself to the wonderment of his students. When his students ask if he is not in violation of the rabbinic principle that one should not judge alone, he replies that if people seek him out, they evidently accept his authority upon their case, thus implying that there might not have been a developed rabbinic institutional framework in existence in Caesarea (y. Sanh. 1: 1 [18a]; Lapin 1998, p. 64). Despite these conditions, some argue that the most ancient parts of the Palestinian Talmud (those sections commenting on the first three tractates of Nezikin, Damages) were edited in Caesarea by the mid‐fourth century (Goldberg 1987). In summary, the combination of archaeological and literary evidence from Palestine is not as clear as we might like, and it may present some surprises. Most Jews in Late Antiquity inhabited rural villages in the Galilee and Golan while some dwelled in settlements in the desert. Their rural location does not indicate they were out of the Roman or rabbinic orbit necessarily: Jews in Qasrin had the same fiscal issues as people elsewhere in the empire while Jews in Dabura may have been able to learn at a rabbinic study house. The relationship of the Jewish population to the rabbinic movement cannot be taken for granted but must be evaluated on a site-by-site basis. Some Jews in Huqoq had messianic expectations that the rabbis discouraged, but Jews in some villages like Rehov strove to live by rabbinic interpretation of biblical law. Only a couple of cities had a Jewish majority while many Jews lived as minorities in the larger cities of Palestine (like Caesarea). Jews, both rural and urban, both rabbinic and non‐rabbinic, sought out amulets and were aware of an other‐ worldly realm of angels and demons. All of these details do not amount to a map of Jewish life, but they hint at the urban and rural texture of ancient Jewish life and the complexity of attempting to trace the steps of ancient Jews.

Persian Babylonia Although Jews dwelled in Babylonia (a region now spanning eastern Syria, Iraq, and Iran) from the sixth century bce until the present, suspiciously little archaeology of Jewish life has come to light from that region. The sensational discovery of a synagogue in the border

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town of Dura‐Europos (modern Syria) and Aramaic incantation bowls in the late antique town of Nippur in the early twentieth century are the last sites of ancient Jewish habitation to have generated significant research (Kaiser 2016; Montgomery 1913). Since artefacts like Aramaic incantation bowls continue to enter the antiquities market in a steady stream, it is not for lack of knowledge of where to look for Jewish habitation, but perhaps an indication of suppression of evidence (Ilan 2011). While no archaeological evidence is available for the Jewish towns known from the Babylonian Talmud, talmudic scholars have carefully mined the literary sources for information about daily life from the perspective of the rabbis, taking into account transmission errors and editorial interventions (Elman 2007; Gafni 2006; Goodblatt 2006; Secunda 2014). Additionally, a few studies of the material culture of Sasanian Persia provide some context for practices described in rabbinic texts (Simpson 2015) (see more in Mokhtarian, Chapter  9). For Babylonia, unlike Palestine, we can only gain an impression of rabbinic Jewish life in various places, an account not nearly as detailed and concrete as we can obtain for Palestine. Moreover, without epigraphic evidence, the impression is far more weighted toward the rabbinic perspective. Despite 500 years of silence, it is likely that Jews in Mesopotamia maintained a relationship with the Jews of the land of Israel from the biblical Persian period (522–333 bce) through the Sasanian Persian period (starting in 224 ce), but it is only from the third century onward that the Babylonian Talmud, Middle‐Persian, and Syriac texts provide sources for these Jewish communities and their interactions (Secunda 2014). Educated speculation estimates the population of Jews in Babylonia to have been about one million, “possibly exceeding the number of Jews in Roman Byzantine Palestine” (Gafni 2006, p. 833). As in Palestine, there were towns in Babylonia with Jewish majorities as well as more mixed populations (see Oppenheimer, Isaac, and Leiker 1983 for a survey of all the Jewish sites known from the Talmud as well as this Companion’s maps). Jews living in the Persian‐ Zoroastrian Empire benefited from intensive imperial investment in the cultivation of agricultural land as well as a generally more neutral religious policy, leaving them to live among Persians, Buddhists, Christians, Manichaeans, Arabs, and others in relative (though not perfect) prosperity and peace (Gafni 2006). Jews are known to have inhabited northern Mesopotamia where the city of Nisibis was a central node and lands east of the Tigris River like Media and Elam, but we know the most about the rabbinic Jews who lived near the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, in the area where canals criss‐crossed the fertile plains (Gafni 2006). The rabbis of the Babylonian Talmud refer to this region as the “area of pure lineage,” dismissing Jews who lived elsewhere to the north, east, and south in Mesene (e.g., where Nippur was located; b. Qidd. 72a). Many routes connected the Jews of Byzantine Palestine to the Jews of Sasanian Babylonia, but a popular one likely stretched from the coast to Damascus, across the desert to Palmyra, and on to the frontier town of Dura‐Europos on the Euphrates and thence downriver to towns later known for their rabbinic yeshivot like Pumbedita, Nehardea, and Sura (Cohen 2015, p. 211). A canal branched off the Euphrates just south of Pumbedita and crossed the plain to the Tigris River, passing another town famous for rabbinic residents, Mahoza, on its way to the conurbation of Ctesiphon. Following along this route, each place of Jewish habitation will be discussed in turn. Situated between East and West, the town of Dura‐Europos on the Middle Euphrates began as the Hellenistic colony of Europos on the Dura plateau, later became a strategic


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Parthian outpost (ca. 120 bce–165 ce), and then thrived as a Roman frontier stronghold until 256 ce when a prolonged siege by the Sasanian Persian forces brought about its destruction and abandonment (Kaiser 2016). Dura‐Europos holds a special place in Jewish history because it is home to the earliest surviving synagogue, one that just happened to be preserved with sensationally vivid frescoes of biblical scenes and even a ceiling with myriad creatures, women’s faces, the evil eye, and more (Stern 2010). These scenes transported visitors from the frontier to a biblical world: at its visual center was the Torah, surrounded by three depictions: the Jerusalem temple, the menorah and other cultic objects, and the sacrifice of Isaac. Elijah and Esther feature prominently as well, signaling a range of Jewish attitudes toward other peoples (Sommer 2016) (see Figure 3.4). To give a sense of the town’s religious diversity, we should note that this synagogue was located in a house across the street from a temple of Adonis, two blocks from the earliest preserved Christian church and on the same street as a Roman mithraeum. Graffiti in several languages found within the synagogue suggest it was open to outsiders as well (Stern 2012 and 2018). Though one cannot speak of a Jewish neighborhood per se, inscriptions attest to a Jewish community open to a variety of visitors, with proselytes named as donors, and

Figure 3.4  Dura‐Europos Synagogue, west wall. Source: Yale University Gallery.

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reference to regular Sabbath prayer (Stern 2010, p. 481). As its end indicates, Dura‐Europos was located in a contested region between the Roman and Persian empires. More enduring Jewish and rabbinic ­settlements could be found downriver in southern Mesopotamia. Leaving Dura‐Europos and heading downriver, an ancient traveler seeking Jewish dwelling places might go to one of several locations next. From the third century ce onward, the Babylonian Talmud attests to four major rabbinic centers in Mesopotamia: Nehardea, Pumbedita, Sura, and Mahoza (Elman 2007). Perhaps even more than in Palestine, Jews in Babylonia took pride in their respective home towns and tended to ­disparage other towns (e.g., b. Hul. 127a). A Sasanian poll tax required registering for residency in a town, and such registration could establish one’s genealogical pedigree as well (b. Qidd. 71a; Gafni 2006). Rabbinic legal rulings from different towns might differ and even come into conflict (cf. b. Ketub. 54a; Gafni 2006). According to the ninth century letter of Rav Sherirah Gaon, Nehardea was destroyed by Palmyrans in 259 ce, at which time Rav Yehuda is said to have founded a study circle in Pumbedita, located near modern day Fallujah (from Syriac p‐l‐g), where the Euphrates River divided and irrigated the land (Oppenheimer, Isaac, and Leiker 1983). Pumbedita is thought to be one of several towns in Babylonia with a Jewish majority (b. B. Mezia 24b; Secunda 2014, p. 164) and was home to the influential Rav Abaye. Although the yeshivot of Sura and Pumbedita are remembered as the most prestigious places of learning and are often juxtaposed in rabbinic sources, it is the towns of Pumbedita and Mahoza that receive the greatest amount of social commentary from the Babylonian sages (Elman 2007). Sages of great wealth and property lived in both towns, alongside craftsman, winemakers, and others. Elman makes the case that the sages of Pumbedita were more traditional (or less receptive to Persian mores) than those of Mahoza (Elman 2007, p. 172). Across the fertile plain from Pumbedita, Mahoza was a suburb of the city of Ctesiphon (35 miles south of modern Baghdad), the Persian capital, where the headquarters of the Jewish exilarch were also located. The capital was notable for its heterogeneous population, where Jews were a minority and lived among Persians in close quarters. A culture of religious disputation prevailed in the capital, where Zoroastrian traditions and rabbinic traditions were brought into confrontation in public disputations, ones the rabbis preferred to avoid (b. Shab. 116a). Mahoza was known for its wealth, cosmopolitan character, sizable proselyte population (b. Qidd. 73a), and Christian community. Two important sages dwelled there: R. Nahman, a sage often accused of accommodating to Persian society, who apparently spoke in an Aramaic peppered with Persian loanwords and adopted more lax (Persian) attitudes toward the mingling of the sexes. Second, R. Nahman’s student Rava dwelled in Mahoza and was known for his practicality in urban legal matters (Elman 2007, p. 189). Archaeological excavations from ancient Ctesiphon revealed “[h]ouses within the residential quarters [that] appear to have been accessed via an irregular network of narrow alleys or passages,” confirming Talmudic portrayals of household entrances located on alleyways, which might be blocked or complicated by an uncooperative neighbor (Simpson 2015, p. 12). The sages also mention areas of Jewish Babylonia that they considered to be home to Jews of suspect lineage Herman 2018 and Paz 2018. We do not have sources on what those suspect Jews might have thought about the sages, but incantation bowls suggest that the rabbis were not the only mediating authorities to whom ancient Jews might have


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turned (see Figure 9.4). Ritual experts were on the scene as well to invoke divine powers on behalf of people in need. The incantation bowls discovered in residential houses of Nippur also reflect a milieu where people spoke Jewish Aramaic, Syriac, and Mandaean, lived in close proximity to each other in mud‐brick houses, and worried about demonic attack, illness, business, and marital trouble. On the problem of demons, the rabbis and these other Jews were in agreement: the other‐worldly realm required policing and circumscription by mortal inhabitants, Jews among them. Although the Judaism of the Babylonian Sages ultimately became normative for Jewish communities ranging from Iran to Spain, this outlook on the other‐worldly realm finally succumbed to enlightenment tendencies in the last century.

Suggestions for Future Developments Ancient Jews conceptualized their immediate geography and their place in the world in ways that might be foreign to people today. It is the task of informed readers to use all available evidence to reorient themselves to this ancient landscape, where cities may not have been the main points of reference, but instead the nearest village and its marketplace was topographically most significant (cf. a popular refrain in Babylonian amulets with regional variants; Hunter 2002; Secunda 2014). Alleyways were not a feature of urban life only, but also of smaller settlements with their multi‐generational residential compounds, familiar places that could bring just as many fraught encounters as we might imagine a dense city square provoking. Attuned to the nearest marketplaces amidst the fields and mountains, rural and urban Jews were also aware of the nearest synagogues, temples, or churches, likely the most identifiable buildings in the ancient landscape. Thinking about how extant texts originated or were performed in these different settings may lead to new questions and interpretations. No doubt new archaeological excavations will continue to enrich our understanding of Jewish dwelling places around the Mediterranean as well, even as publication of neglected sources will also contribute much to our understanding of ancient Jews within and without the rabbinic movement. Certainly, the foray of scholars into Syriac and Middle Persian texts continues to enrich our understanding of Jewish contact with Christians and others. Scholars will benefit from examining the literary and archaeological evidence in tandem, avoiding privileging one over the other, and without pre‐conceptions about normative Jewish behavior in antiquity. The cultural milieu, whether Roman Palestine or Persian Babylonia, was certainly important in the formation of Jewish identities in antiquity, but it was also just one dimension among many determining Jewish self‐expression in antiquity. Particular local communal religious emphases seemed to have played a much larger role in determining Jewish practice than previously recognized. Hopefully, forthcoming research will continue to shed light on the diversity and dynamism of Jewish communities in late antiquity.

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Lightstone, Jack (1984, reprint 2006). The Commerce of the Sacred: Mediation of the Divine Among Jews in the Greco‐Roman World. New York: Columbia University Press. Magness, Jodi (2012). The Archaeology of the Holy Land: From the Destruction of Solomon’s Temple to the Muslim Conquest. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Magness, Jodi and Schindler, Daniel (2015). Pottery and Jewish settlement in late Roman Galilee. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 374: 191–207. DOI: 10.5615/bullamerschoorie.374.0191. Magness, Jodi, Kisilevitz, Shua, Britt, Karen, et al. (2014). Huqoq (Lower Galilee) and its synagogue mosaics: preliminary report on the excavations of 2011–13. Journal of Roman Archaeology 27: 327–355. DOI: 10.1017/S1047759414001263. Meyers, Eric (1999, reprint 2008). Recent archaeology in Palestine: achievements and future goals. The Cambridge History of Judaism 3: The Early Roman Period (eds. William Horbury, W.D. Davies, and John Sturdy), 59–74. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Miller, Stuart (2004). ‘Epigraphical’ rabbis, helios, and Psalm 19: Were the synagogues of archaeology and the synagogues of the sages one and the same? Jewish Quarterly Review 94: 27–76. DOI: 10.1353/jqr.2004.0051. Montgomery, James (1913). Aramaic Incantation Texts from Nippur. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum. Naveh, Joseph and Shaked, Shaul (1987). Amulets and Magic Bowls: Aramaic Incantations of Late Antiquity. Jerusalem: Magnes Press. Naveh, Joseph and Shaked, Shaul (1993). Magic Spells and Formulae: Aramaic Incantations of Late Antiquity. Jerusalem: Magnes Press, Hebrew University. Oppenheimer, Aharon, Isaac, Benjamin, and Lecker, Michael (1983). Babylonia Judaica in the Talmudic Period. Wiesbaden: Reichert. Paz, Yakir (2018). ‘Meishan is Dead:’ on the historical contexts of the Bavli's representations of the Jews in southern Babylonia. In: The Aggadah of the Bavli and its Cultural World (eds. Geoffrey Herman and Jeffrey Rubenstein), 47–99. Providence, RI: Brown University Press. Perkins, Bryan Ward (1998). The cities. In: The Cambridge Ancient History XIII: The Late Empire A.D. 337–425 (eds. Averil Cameron and Peter Garnsey), 371–410. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Price, Jonathan and Misgav, Haggai (2006). Jewish inscriptions and their use. In: Literature of the Sages, 2e (eds. Shmuel Safrai, Zeev Safrai, Joshua Schwartz, and Peter J. Tomson), 461–484. Philadelphia: Fortress Press. Schwartz, Joshua (2006). The material realities of Jewish life in the land of Israel, c. 235–638. In: The Cambridge History of Judaism, vol. 4: The Late Roman‐Rabbinic Period (ed. Steven T. Katz), 431–456. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Schwartz, Seth (2001). Imperialism and Jewish Society, 200 B.C.E. to 640 C.E. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Secunda, Shai (2014). The Iranian Talmud: Reading the Bavli in its Sasanian Context. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. Simpson, St. John (2015). Land behind Ctesiphon: the archaeology of Babylonia during the period of the Babylonian Talmud. In: The Archaeology and Material Culture of the Babylonian Talmud (ed. Markham J. Geller), 6–38. Leiden: Brill.


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Sommer, Michael (2016). Acculturation, hybridity, creolite: mapping cultural diversity in Dura‐Europos. In: Religion, Society and Culture at Dura‐Europos (ed. Ted Kaiser), 57–67. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Stern, Karen B. (2010). Mapping devotion in Roman Dura Europos: reconsideration of the synagogue ceiling. American Journal of Archaeology 114 (3): 473–504. DOI: 10.3764/aja.114.3.473. Stern, Karen B. (2012). Tagging sacred space in the Dura‐Europos synagogue. Journal of Roman Archaeology 25: 171–194. DOI: 10.1017/S1047759400001185. Stern, Karen B. (2018). Writing on the Wall: Graffiti and the Forgotten Jews of Antiquity. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Weiss, Zeev (ed.) (2005). The Sepphoris Synagogue: Deciphering an Ancient Message Through Its Archaeological and Socio‐Historical Contexts. Israel Exploration Society, Institute of Archaeology, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Zangenberg, Jürgen K. and van de Zande, Dianne (2010). Urbanization. Oxford Handbook of Jewish Daily Life in Roman Palestine. Oxford: Oxford University Press.




Late Ancient Jewish Languages Azzan Yadin‐Israel

The Literary Landscape in Judaea The literary works of the period under discussion are primarily Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, with significant variance among these languages based on region, social class, and the intended function of the work. Some of the main Hebrew works composed during the period are the later books of the Hebrew Bible, a list that may include (the dating of some of these works remains controversial) Ecclesiastes, Job, Jonah, certain Psalms, the Hebrew sections of Daniel and the Song of Songs. There are also many apocryphal (or deuterocanonical) works composed in Hebrew, e.g., Ben Sira, 1 Maccabees, and Wisdom of Solomon. The Book of Jubilees, a second century bce work, was composed in Hebrew, as copies discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls demonstrate, as were most of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The earliest stratum of rabbinic literature—the tannaitic sources, consisting of the Mishnah, Tosefta, and the tannaitic midrashim—is almost exclusively Hebrew. Among later sources, the main corpora of written Hebrew are the Hekhalot writings and the Byzantine tradition of liturgical poetry known as piyyut, the earliest examples of which dovetail with the conclusion of the period under discussion. Aramaic literary production from this period includes parts of the biblical book of Daniel, recensions of pseudephigraphic works such as the Testament of the Patriarchs, the Book of Enoch, and a number of documents known from the Dead Sea Scrolls, including the Aramaic Levi Document and the Genesis Apocryphon. The earliest rabbinic document (the first century ce) Megillat Taʿanit (The Scroll of Fasting) is Aramaic, as are a majority of rabbinic sources that postdate the tannaitic period—the Palestinian Talmud (in Jewish Palestinian Aramaic), the Babylonian Talmud (in Jewish Babylonian Aramaic), and the aggadic (literary, homiletic, non‐legal) midrashim are all largely Aramaic, though they A Companion to Late Ancient Jews and Judaism: Third Century bce to Seventh Century ce, First Edition. Edited by Naomi Koltun-Fromm and Gwynn Kessler. © 2020 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published 2020 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


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contain some Hebrew as well. The importance of Aramaic to late antique Jewish communities is underlined by the creation of the various targums, Aramaic translations of—and exegetical additions to—the Hebrew Bible. The date and location of all the Targumim have not been definitively established: the earliest, Targum Onqelos, likely dates to the third century ce, though fragments of an Aramaic translation of Job were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. Jewish texts composed in Greek originate, for the most part, beyond the geographic borders of Judaea/Palestine, often in Alexandria. The most significant Jewish work in Greek is undoubtedly the Septuagint, the immensely influential Greek translation of the Torah (Pentateuch) undertaken in Alexandria in the third century bce. Ezekiel the Tragedian, an Alexandrian poet usually dated to the second century bce, composed a five‐ act dramatic retelling of the Exodus tale, the Exagogē, and while the play is not extant, 269 lines have been culled from citations in later sources (a few fragments have been discovered in Oxyrhynchus, but have not yet been published). Another Alexandrian Jewish poet, a man named Philo (not to be confused with the philosopher of the same name), composed a poem about the history of Jerusalem. Both 2 Maccabees, which recounts the early days of the Hasmonean revolt, and the Letter of Aristeas are from the second century bce Alexandria. The latter relates how an Egyptian king commands a team of Jewish scholars to be assembled to translate the Hebrew Bible into Greek. Philo of Alexandria (not related to the poet mentioned above) was a prominent member of the Jewish community who lived from circa 20 bce to 50 ce. A prolific writer, he composed commentaries in which he sought to harmonize the Hebrew Bible with Greek philosophical doctrines, philosophical treatises, and historical accounts of his work on behalf of the Jewish community of Alexandria. The original language of numerous works remains a matter of debate. The book of Tobit, composed in the late third or early second century bce may have been written in Hebrew or in Aramaic—fragments in both languages were uncovered at Qumran. 2 Enoch, a late first‐century ce work is today extant in a Slavonic translation from Greek, which may, in turn, be a translation from Hebrew or Aramaic, and different languages of origin have been claimed for 4 Ezra. Most scholars agree that Jesus’ sayings were originally in Aramaic (see Fassberg 2012), though the debate between advocates of Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek has often been driven by non‐academic concerns, as Thompson (2010) has demonstrated.

The Non‐Literary Landscape in Judaea Scholars have no direct access to the spoken language(s) of late antiquity, but extant non‐ literary writings offer insight into non‐elite uses of language. Epigraphic evidence points to the centrality of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, with important geographic variations. The ossuaries of the late Second Temple period Akeldama burial complex in Jerusalem are roughly evenly divided between Hebrew and Greek inscriptions, with a small number of bilingual epigraphs. Of the sizable collection of ostraca excavated at Masada and dating to the time of the Great Revolt (66–70 ce), only a very small number are in Hebrew, a significant portion are in Greek, and the vast majority in Aramaic. As Seth Schwartz

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(Schwartz 1995, p. 34) notes, the Hebrew inscriptions refer to the purity status of the content of jugs (probably wine), suggesting that Hebrew was linked to the Jerusalem Temple; several of the Aramaic ostraca, in contrast, provide instructions on how bread is to be distributed. The vast Jewish necropolis of Beth Sheʿarim in the lower Galilee, dating primarily from the second to fourth centuries ce, contains several long Hebrew inscriptions (“This is the resting place of …,” “This is the coffin of …”), just over a dozen Aramaic inscriptions, including several that threaten anyone who opens the grave with tragic deaths, and more than two hundred Greek inscriptions, though many of the latter contain some Hebrew, most commonly (shalom, “peace”) or (ḥaval, “woe”). Occasionally, a word written in Hebrew is interspersed within an otherwise Greek (rabbi, “rabbi” or “teacher”) the pious lies here. Have inscription: “… the son of Yose courage.” The Beth Sheʿarim inscriptions bear witness to the language contact between Hebrew and Greek. Two Hebrew texts refer to the woman buried as (followed by a personal name), a transliteration of kyra, koine Greek for “lady, mistress” (and a popular name today). As a corollary, Greek inscriptions occasionally transliterate Hebrew (σαλομ, “peace”; ριββι, ribbi (= “rabbi”), or Aramaic (βαρ, “son of”) words. The Hammat Tiberias synagogue (second half of the fourth century ce) contains a Greek dedication that concludes with the Hebrew (shalom, “peace”) and a mosaic with the Hebrew names of the zodiac signs. The synagogue at Sepphoris offers an interesting cultural juxtaposition: Greek inscriptions accompany the biblical story of the Binding of Isaac and the depicted temple objects, the Zodiac signs and their corresponding months are in Hebrew, and the donor inscription in Aramaic. As the proliferation of stylized Chinese tattoos in the United States reminds us, any attempt to extrapolate from written language to spoken competence requires extreme caution. Not to suggest that the situation with Hebrew formulae on Greek and Latin funerary inscriptions is precisely the same—certainly some of the Jews may have had some knowledge of Hebrew. However, without additional evidence, the formulae can no more count as evidence for such knowledge than a ketubah (Jewish marriage contract) displayed in a Jewish home indicates that the couple knows Aramaic, the language in which these documents are traditionally written. This is a significant caveat, given the intensity with which the status of Hebrew as a spoken language has been debated. In the early twentieth century, the prevalent view was that Aramaic had displaced Hebrew as a spoken language during the Second Temple period; today it is widely recognized that Hebrew remained spoken, at least in some circles, until the early third century. The most important reason for this shift was the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and related documents. Though the Dead Sea Scrolls are mostly written in a classicizing Hebrew that consciously imitates the Hebrew Bible, two documents are composed in a Hebrew that closely resembles that of the Mishnah: “Some Precepts of the Law” (4QMMT), an epistle addressed to the priesthood in Jerusalem, and the Copper Scroll (3Q15). Since the authors of the Qumran documents were proficient in composing classicizing Hebrew, opting to write in “mishnaic” Hebrew may be an indication that the latter was the non‐literary, spoken Hebrew of the day. A similar argument has been made for some of the Bar Kosiba (widely referred to as Bar Kokhba) letters, though it is difficult to know to what extent these documents reflect the broader linguistic environment versus Bar Kosiba’s nationalism. (As Seth Schwartz has noted, some Bar Kosiba coins contain inscriptions in Paleo‐Hebrew


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script, “at a time when ability to read this script must have been very rare indeed, even among those literate in Hebrew” (Schwartz 1995, p. 27), so it is possible that Hebrew’s prominence was forced in other contexts as well) (see Figure 28.3). Still, several literary texts preserve “aural errors” that are likely to arise from the scribe’s familiarity with spoken Hebrew. The Qumran Community Scroll contains the following injunction: “And in the place in which the Ten assemble there should not be missing a man to interpret the law day and night, always, ʿal yafot’” (1QS, vi. 6; García Martínez and Tigchelaar, 1997, 1.83). The transliterated words are nonsensical in Hebrew: the first is a preposition meaning “on” or “upon,” the second a nominal adjective, “the beautiful ones (female plural)”—a phrase incongruous with the sentence as a whole. However, as scholars have recognized, these represent a corruption of the word halifot, “alternating,” a reference to the individuals taking turns during the nocturnal interpretation of the Torah (“there should not be missing a man to interpret the law day and night, always, one relieving the other”). This shift is unlikely to be a scribal error; it apparently stems from the weakening of the pronunciation of the initial heth (a phenomenon known from other contemporary sources), leading to confusion with the similarly weakened ʿayin, with the result that halifot and ʿal yafot are pronounced as near homonyms. Another possible example of a spoken substratum underlying a written document is found in the Wadi Murabba’at documents, discovered near the Dead Sea Scroll caves, where the form —meaningless in context) has been resolved as a combination of ʾet haʿafar taf ʿar ( ( “the earth”; Fassberg 2012, p. 272, no. 44). Here again, the error reflects a scribal misunderstanding based on mishearing, not miscopying. A second reason for the recognition that Hebrew was a spoken language is the re‐evaluation of the earliest stratum of rabbinic Hebrew. Prior to Segal (1908 and 1927), it was widely held that the Hebrew of the Mishnah (redacted ~200 ce) was a scholastic admixture of the biblical Hebrew lexicon and Aramaic syntax. By examining the language of the early rabbis both synchronically, in relation to Aramaic, and diachronically, in relation to Biblical Hebrew, Segal showed that mishnaic Hebrew could not be reduced to either. Though Segal’s ultimate (and baldly nationalistic) conclusion, that the Hebrew of the Mishnah was the spoken language of the Judaean masses, is not accepted by most scholars, his insight into the spoken nature of tannaitic Hebrew is. The Mishnah’s independence from biblical Hebrew vocabulary is evident in passages that use both the biblical and the mishnaic terms for the same object. For example, Mishnah Berakhot’s enumeration of the various blessings made after consuming foods states: “For the [consumption of the] fruit of the tree (ʾilan) one says ‘[Blessed are you Lord …] who creates the fruit of the tree’ (ʿetz)” (m. Ber. 6:1). The passage contains two words for “tree”: it introduces the topic as the blessing on the ʾilan, the standard mishnaic term, not attested in the Hebrew Bible, but the benediction formula refers to the tree as ʿetz, the biblical “tree.” That is, the unmarked mishnaic term is replaced by its biblical equivalent in the poetically elevated language of the ­blessing, an inner‐Hebrew “translation” that suggests rabbinic Hebrew’s independent standing as a non‐biblical, spoken language. Another indication that early rabbinic Hebrew was spoken involves the nature of its interaction with Greek. Linguists who study the effects of language contact distinguish between different types of contact and the respective changes each engenders. The incorporation of foreign words (wrongly called “loan words”—no one is giving them back) is

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a common occurrence in contact environments, and this phenomenon is certainly attested in rabbinic Hebrew, which contains a great many Greek terms (see Sperber 1984). However, lexical enrichment can occur when language contact is superficial. English contains a significant number of words of Arabic origin (e.g., algebra, alcohol, magazine, tuna, zero), but it would be a mistake to deduce that English and Arabic have been in close contact—most of the words entered English through intermediary languages—or that Arabic has exercised a profound influence on English. An indication of more intense ­language contact is rabbinic Hebrew’s incorporation of Greek words into Hebrew verb patterns. For example, the Greek peithein (in its root form peis‐), “to convince, persuade,” serves as a productive “Hebrew” root: piyes, “he persuaded,” mefayes, “he is persuading,” and so on. Similarly, the Greek kalos, “beautiful,” and particularly the phrase kalōs legein, “to speak well of, to praise,” is naturalized by rabbinic Hebrew as leqales, “to praise.” This incorporation is of particular note, as it overrides a biblical Hebrew leqales that means precisely the opposite: to scoff at, to scorn, as in 2 Kings 2: 23: “and while [Elisha] was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered [q‐l‐s] at him, ­saying, ‘Go away, baldhead! Go away, baldhead!’” The semantic evolution of a Hebrew root to mean its opposite (a phenomenon known as enantiosemy) is due to the phonetic similarity between biblical Hebrew leqales and Greek kalos—a type of change typical of contact between spoken languages. Greek’s influence on rabbinic Hebrew extends beyond matters of lexicon. For example, there is a broad category of Greek verbs (deponents) that are structured like passive verbs (“I was taken”) but are semantically active (“I took”)—they “look like” passive verbs but are active in meaning. Many verbs whose form and meaning are active in biblical Hebrew regularly appear in rabbinic Hebrew in passive form with active meaning: “Be intent (shaqud) to study Torah” (m. Abot 2: 14), with root sh‐q‐d appearing in the passive, rather than the active (shoqed); daluq “burning” (ner daluq, “a burning candle”) rather than doleq; kaʿus “angry” and not the expected koʿes. Though not absolutely unprecedented in earlier strata of Hebrew, the proliferation of the phenomenon in rabbinic Hebrew indicates that its speakers are mirroring the Greek morphology, another type of change typical of contact between spoken languages. Note, finally, Tosefta Sanhedrin 12: 10: “Rabbi Akiva says, One who trills his voice in the Song of Songs while in the taverns, turning it into some sort of tune (zemer), has no place in the world to come.” Though it is difficult to determine the social reality that underlies this statement, the image of tavern patrons breaking into a drunken chorus of a (doubtless raunchy) passage from the Song of Songs suggests a popular familiarity with Hebrew.

The Diaspora My presentation thus far has concentrated on the linguistic situation in Judaea with particular attention to the question of Hebrew’s status as a spoken language. However, it is worth noting that both the geographic focus and the prominence of the spoken status of Hebrew are informed by concerns largely extraneous to linguistic concerns. For many Christian scholars, these themes are the foundation on which to ascertain the language


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Jesus spoke (see Fassberg, 2012, and, on the ideological undertones of the scholarship, Thompson, 2010), while a significant portion of Jewish (particularly Israeli) scholars have been guided by the nationalist desire to establish Hebrew as the language of the Jewish masses. I mention these motivations not to discredit the linguistic conclusions that are, as indicated, generally convincing. I wish, rather, to draw attention to the way the relatively narrow parameters of earlier linguistic investigations have focused disproportionately on Israel at the expense of the overwhelming majority of late antique Jews, who lived in the Diaspora and maintained for the most part only minimal contact with Hebrew. Indeed, it is likely that many Diaspora Jews were so thoroughly immersed in their local languages that they have left no discernible linguistic trace. Here is a first century bce epitaph from Aquileia, an important northern Italian city of the day (Noy 1993, 1.11–13): L(ucius) Aiacius P(ublii) l(ibertus) Dama Iudaeus portor v(ivus) s(ibi) f(ecit)

Lucius Aiacius Dama freedman of Publius Jew, customs house worker, made (the tomb) while he was alive

The word Iudaeus bears witness to the ethno‐religious identity of the deceased, but without it there would be no way to identify Lucius Aiacius Dama, the customs house worker, as a Jew. The discussion that follows, then, treats only the recoverable linguistic production of late antique Diaspora Jews. “Jewish languages” refers to distinctively Jewish varieties of (non‐Hebrew) languages spoken and sometimes written by Jews. (I follow Kahn and Rubin (2016, p. 3) in distinguishing between “Judeo‐languages,” written in Hebrew script, and “Jewish languages,” which are not.) The languages with the earliest attestation are Jewish Aramaic and Jewish Greek. The former is witnessed in the fifth century bce papyri from Elephantine, an island in the Upper (that is, southern) Nile, near the present‐day city of Aswan. The island housed a Jewish garrison that left a trove of Aramaic documents containing a number of distinctly Jewish linguistic elements, including Aramaic calques (loan translations) of ritual phrases such as “the Lord God” and “the high priest,” and Hebrew verbal roots displacing their Aramaic counterparts. Of course, there may be a gap, perhaps a dramatic gap, between the earliest emergence of a language and its earliest extant written record; it is likely that Jewish Aramaic predates the Elephantine papyri by centuries. Jewish Aramaic (in different dialects and forms) remained a vital Jewish language for millennia, with a written record that includes the Aramaic portions of the Hebrew Bible, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the various Targums, and the Palestinian and Babylonian Talmuds, down to the neo‐Aramaic vernaculars spoken by Jewish communities in Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Kurdistan. Many of these communities immigrated to Israel in the 1950s, where their native tongues were lost to the state’s Hebrew‐only ideology (Fassberg in Kahn and Rubin, 2016). The most significant literary product of the Jewish Diaspora is the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, which contains elements of Jewish Greek. The historical importance of the Septuagint cannot be overstated, both because it was one of the earliest major translations of a religious‐national epic in world history (Livius

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Andronicus, who translated the Odyssey into Latin in the middle of the third century bce, did so for his poetry classes), and because the Septuagint played a critical role in the formation of Christian communities throughout the Roman empire. Linguistically, Jan Joosten (2016) has argued that elements of Septuagint Greek that are unattested in (non‐ Jewish) Greek, and cannot be explained as literal translations of the Hebrew source ­language, may reasonably be considered part of the Greek dialect of the Jewish community of Alexandria. These include Hebrew or Aramaic words that have been transliterated into Greek, including pasxa (“Passover”), manna (“Manna”), and sikera (“strong drink”—a transliteration that ultimately produces the English cider); Greek phrases that reflect Hebrew or Aramaic terms or syntax, e.g., the Greek formulation “to sin before [God],” an apparent calque of Aramaic qedam, “before,” but also used to indicate the party against which a sin was committed; and translation choices that break with contemporary non‐Jewish Greek and likely reflect usages familiar to the Jewish audience, including eulogein, normally “to praise,” but regularly in the Septuagint “to bless,” or the (incredibly influential) interpretation of eidola—generally “visible shape”—to mean false gods (source of the English word idol). An Aramaic‐Greek bilingual funerary inscription from Zoar, south east of the Dead Sea, consists of texts in each language identifying the site as a burial site of Mousios son of Marsas. Interestingly, each inscription employs a different dating system: the Greek dates Mousios’s death to the year 253, counting from the founding of the Roman province of Arabia, and the Aramaic to “the year 290 after the destruction of the Temple” (Price and Misgav 2006, p. 471). The chronologies converge to the year 358 ce, but it is interesting that each inscription maintains its own dating conventions, so that one cannot be thought of a translation of—or otherwise secondary to—the other. Other inscriptions employed Jewish Greek. A fifth century ce epitaph excavated in Venosa, southern Italy, opens with a standard Hebrew blessing “Peace be upon his resting place,” followed by a Greek inscription written in Hebrew letters (Noy 1993, p. 98): Inscription


Translation from Greek

tafos sekondino presubitero kimisi en irena eton ogduanta

The grave of Secondinus the elder He fell asleep in peace Aged eighty

Who is the intended audience of this inscription? The words are nonsensical for Hebrew readers who do not speak Greek; the letters indecipherable to Greek speakers who do not read Hebrew. Only Greek‐speaking readers of Hebrew could understand the epitaph. No ancient Jewish language is as well attested as the Jewish variants of Aramaic and Greek. However, while discussion of unattested language histories is necessarily speculative, the conditions for other Jewish languages did exist and it is reasonable to assume that the historical lives of these languages extend beyond the borders of the extant evidence. Archaeological and literary sources attest to the presence of a sizable Jewish community in North Africa, with funerary and synagogue epigraphs in Latin, Greek, and, albeit rarely, Hebrew. A disproportionate number of the individuals referred to in these epigraphs are named Sabbatus (and variants) and are likely proselytized Berbers (Le Bohec 1981).


Azzan Yadin‐Israel

A similar dynamic is present with other communities. While the origins of a Jewish presence in Albania are impossible to date, the discovery of a fifth century ce synagogue in the city of Saranda, on the southern coast, offers a relatively early terminus ante quem. Even under Roman rule, Albanian (or an early form thereof) remained widely spoken and would have been familiar to at least some of the Jewish populace. Similar arguments can be made for Jewish Persian and Jewish Georgian. To be clear, none of these languages or Jewish dialects is attested for the time covered by this essay. The earliest Judeo‐Persian documents date from the eighth century (Borjian in Kahn and Rubin 2016)—just postdating the Muslim conquests—while no record of Jewish Berber exists until the nineteenth century (Chetrit in Kahn and Rubin 2016). Nonetheless, given the social and linguistic circumstances of these communities, it is probable that Jewish dialect(s) existed in some form.

Language Ideology In his important study, “Language, Power and Identity in Ancient Palestine” (Schwartz 1995), Seth Schwartz examines the ideological function of language (rather than its empirical occurrences) in Roman Palestine and, to a lesser extent, the Jewish Diaspora. Schwartz’s focus is political, arguing that Hebrew’s “changing function is logically secondary to an argument about the structure of ancient Jewish society and how it changed, in part in response to changing patterns of imperial domination” (Schwarz 1995, p. 4). Despite reservations about some of the details of Schwarz’s argument, the article reorients the discussion of late‐antique Jewish language away from an empirical assessment of the spoken and written languages, toward an analysis of the ideological and symbolic function of language, and particularly of the Hebrew language. Throughout, Schwartz rightly insists that it is imperative that the study of ancient language be uncoupled from the (often unstated) assumptions of present‐day scholars regarding the centrality of language for communal and national identity. There are, to be sure, literary elements that support a robust valorization of language, most prominent among them the biblical description of the world coming into being as the result of God’s (Hebrew) pronouncements. Yet ideologically charged uses of, or references to, Hebrew are poorly attested in Second Temple and early rabbinic sources. This is not to say that they are non‐existent. A well‐known passage in Jubilees, a second century bce survey of Israelite history from creation to the Sinai revelation, affirms the importance of Hebrew. Here, the angel dictating to Moses, recounts God’s actions concerning Abraham: And the Lord God said to me, “Open his mouth and his ears so that he might hear and speak with his mouth in the language which is revealed because it ceased from the mouth of all the sons of men from the day of the Fall.” And I opened his mouth and his ears and his lips and I began to speak with him in Hebrew, in the tongue of creation. And he took his father’s books—and they were written in Hebrew—and he copied them. (Jub. 12: 25–27; Charlesworth 1985, 2.82)

For Jubilees, Hebrew has both national and cosmic significance. It is at once the l­anguage that—extinct since the Tower of Babel (referred to as “the Fall” in the passage)—Abraham

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must learn to read in order to understand the teachings of his forefathers, and “the tongue of creation.”1 The Book of Jubilees is a significant witness, but surprisingly incongruous with later sources, in which Hebrew plays a relatively minor role. There appears to be, for one, no linguistic dimension to Hasmonean nationalism (absent from Mendels 1992), unless Hebrew coins are counted as evidence, though many of them bore Greek writing as well. More robust and more striking evidence comes from early rabbinic sources, that are, more often than not, linguistically unchauvanistic. The early rabbis are, for example, quite accommodating when it comes to the language of ritual. Regarding the reading of the Scroll of Esther, the main religious obligation that attends the holiday of Purim, the Mishnah states: “If a man reads the scroll … in Aramaic or in any other language, he has not fulfilled his obligation. But it may be read in a foreign tongue to them that speak a foreign tongue” (m. Meg. 2: 1). Similarly: These may be said in any language: the paragraph of the suspected adulteress, the avowal concerning the [second] tithe, the recital of the Shema, the eighteen benedictions, the benediction of food, the oath of testimony, and the oath concerning a deposit. These must be said in the holy language [Hebrew]: the paragraphs of the first fruit, the words of halitzah [i.e. the release from a levirate obligation], the blessings and the curses, the blessings of the priests, and the blessings of the high priest, the paragraph of the king, the paragraph of the heifer whose neck is to be broken, and the words of the anointed for battle when he addresses the people. (m. Sotah 7: 1‐2)

The Mishnah goes on to provide a biblical explanation for the demand that certain speech acts be in Hebrew, namely the occurrence of a verse such as “you shall answer and say” (Deut. 26: 5; 27: 14) Interestingly, most of the Hebrew‐only rituals involve institutions that are no longer extant during the time that the Mishnah is being redacted—the Temple, the priesthood, the elders, and the monarchy. Hebrew’s ritual centrality, then, is maintained more as cultural memory than lived reality: daily speech acts such as the Shema, the daily prayer (eighteen ­benedictions), and grace after meal, can be made in any language (see Alexander, Chapter 20 on the Shema). Rabbinic sources contain a number of unequivocal statements concerning the importance of spoken Hebrew, as when the Palestinian Talmud cites a tradition in the name of Rabbi Meir: “Whoever has permanent residence in the Land of Israel, eats non‐sacrificial meat in a state of ritual purity, speaks in the holy tongue (Hebrew), and recites the Shema in the morning and night, he is assured to have a place in the world to come” (y. Shab. 1, 3, 3c); or “Once a child begins to talk, his father should converse with him in the holy tongue and should teach him Torah, for if he fails to do so it is the same as if he had buried him (alive)” (Sifre Deut. §46; Hammer, 1986, p. 98). However, affirmations of Hebrew’s theological significance, whether as the language of God or of creation, are few and surprisingly tentative. So while Rabbi Yohanan interprets: “Now the whole earth had a single language and the same words” (Gen. 11: 1) as follows: “[This teaches that] they spoke the language of the Singular, that is, the Holy Language (Hebrew)” (y. Meg. 1, 9, 10a), this position is juxtaposed with the  converse interpretation that humanity "spoke all seventy languages.” Even the


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assertion that Hebrew is the language of the Torah and of creation is put forth tentatively and obliquely: [“Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh;] this one shall be called Woman (ʾishah), for out of Man (ʾish) this one was taken’” (Gen. 2: 23). From this you learn that the Torah was given in Hebrew. Rabbi Pinhas and Rabbi Hilqia said in the name of Rabbi Shimon: Just as the Torah was given in Hebrew so too the world was created in Hebrew. (Gen. Rab. §18, 4; Theodor and Albeck 1965, 1.164–165)

The linguistic issue is innocuous—the phonetic similarity between the Hebrew words for “woman” and “man”: Adam names woman ishah since she was taken from ish (“man”), but this modest wordplay is, according to the anonymous teaching, proof that the Torah was given in Hebrew. The passage continues: “Have you ever heard it said gyne‐gynia, ita‐itata, anthropy‐anthropia, gavra‐gevarta? But rather ish‐ishah, as the words play on one another.” The word pairs cited in the first part of this proof consist of the Greek and Aramaic words for “woman” and then for “man,” each paired with a non‐existent, phonetically similar word designating the opposite sex. In Greek, gyne is woman and anthropos, man; in Aramaic, iteta and gavra, respectively. Only the Hebrew pair is phonetically similar, and from this we learn that the biblical etiology of the word ishah “woman” presupposes Hebrew, not Greek or Aramaic, proof that the world was created in Hebrew. It is notable that the passage enlists such a minor statement as the ish‐ishah wordplay to prove that the Torah was given in Hebrew and, according to Rabbi Shimon, that the world was created in Hebrew; more remarkable is the evident concern to dispel the notion that Greek or Aramaic were the original language of the Torah and of creation. Perhaps for good reason: 2 Enoch 30:13 and the Sibylline Oracles 3: 24‐26 (both cited in Schwartz 1995, p. 32 no. 69) refer to God creating the first human out of four letters, the Greek equivalents of A‐D‐A‐M, a ­midrash on the quadriliteral Greek name not replicable in Hebrew, since (adam) consists of three letters. Even within classical rabbinic sources there are a number of interpretations that are based on Greek homonyms of biblical Hebrew words (Smelik 2013, pp. 16–18). Other rabbinic statements are ambivalent about the status of Hebrew, especially in comparison with Greek and Aramaic. Interpreting the verse “May God make space for Japheth and let him live in the tents of Shem” (Gen. 9: 27), the early third century sage Bar Kapra renders the blessing as a promise that “the words of Torah will be spoken in the language of Japheth (i.e. in Greek)” (Theodor and Albeck 1965; Gen. Rab. §36, 1.342). Far from espousing Hebrew’s superiority, the sage sees the emergence of Greek‐language Torah study as a moment of triumph. To be sure, the derashah evinces a clear anticolonial bent: the colonizing language will be subverted by the colonized, who will impose their own scholarly and cultural norms—Torah study—on Greek. Still, the fantasy does not call into question Greek’s elevated cultural status, but rather works to reconfigure that status to the benefit of rabbinic ideology. Other rabbinic dicta affirm the importance of Aramaic. The Babylonian Talmud’s assertion that “One who offers a prayer of supplication in Aramaic, the ministering angels do not heed him as the ministering angels do not know Aramaic” (b. Shab. 12b) appears, prima facie, to condemn Hebrew’s main Semitic rival (and the

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s­ aying is cited in this spirit in scholarly literature). However, the dictum occurs in a discussion of the two blessings Rabbi Eliezer used to recite to aid the sick, Hebrew and Aramaic versions of “May God remember you for peace” (hamaqom yifqodkha leshalom and raḥmanaʾ yidkarakh lishlam, respectively). Mention of the Aramaic version provokes the statement about the ministering angels’ ignorance of Aramaic—a challenge to the efficacy of Rabbi Eliezer’s Aramaic blessings, but the talmudic passage ultimately dispatches this challenge: “It is different for a sick person since God’s presence is with him.” The ministering angels may not know Aramaic, but God does. Finally, note this fascinating passage from a late midrash to the Scroll of Esther: “The way of the world is that when a Mede man marries a Persian woman, she speaks Mede; when a Persian man marries a Mede woman, she speaks Persian. But the Holy One blessed be He speaks with Israel in their lived language (lashon shel ḥayyim)” (Esth. Rab. 4, 12; following the manuscript reading of Tabori and Atzmon 2014). The concluding phrase is not completely clear—apparently lashon shel ḥayim refers to the lived language of the Jewish communities. In any case, the point of the midrash is that, in the union of God (the groom) and Israel (the bride), Hebrew was from the bride’s side. Since Hebrew is the language of creation, one might have expected it to play a major role in the enterprise that most closely approximates divine creation—linguistically‐based Jewish magic (rather than plant‐based potions, erotic philtres and the like). In fact, it is marginal. Thus, the vast majority of Jewish incantation bowls are in Aramaic and the few Hebrew exemplars replicate the language of the Aramaic bowls; Hebrew as such does not play a role in the efficacy of the incantation (see Mokhtarian, Chapter 9). A similar marginalization of Hebrew is evident in the prominent role of voces magicae in ancient Jewish magic. The magical texts of the Hekhalot Literature (which deals with mystical ascent and dates to the end of the period under discussion), to cite an important example, are replete with names and incantations that are distinguished by their non‐semantic, linguistically unidentifiable nature. The text known as Maʿaseh Merkavah is typical. In it, Rabbi Ishmael, a prominent tannaitic sage, recounts a discussion he had with Rabbi Nehunya ben Hakana in which he asked the older sage “how is the wisdom of the Prince of Torah?” To which Rabbi Nehunya ben Hakana responds: “When you pray, recite the three names that the angels of glory recite: ZṢ ṬWṢ ZRZY L TYT TWPYLṬY RB TQY RWRY ZY YZWZ RGBW” (Janowitz 1989, p. 46). Much of what follows is an account, in Rabbi Ishmael’s voice, of his newfound knowledge of the names of the angels: “As soon as I stood up and saw my face shining from my wisdom, I began to detail off each and every angel in each and every palace: ‘In the first palace stand ZHWPYL and ZPYL, GTWRYL and RṢWṢYL and SPṬL, BZTL, WSPYL, and WZBBYL” (Janowitz 1989, p. 52). Rabbi Ishmael then proceeds to the gate of the second through seventh palaces, and finally to the angels surrounding God—nearly one hundred angel names are cited, all of which are—so far as scholars have been able to determine—nonsensical. Sefer ha‐Razim (“The Book of Mysteries”) delineates angelic names that “have no meaning in any language … [its magical recipes] evince not only a close resemblance to those of the Greek magical papyri, but also a long line of Greek words and technical terms” (Bohak 2008, p. 172); Ḥarba de‐ moshe (“The Sword of Moses”) describes a magical “sword” entrusted to Moses that consists of “an extremely long list of mostly meaningless ‘words,’ in which are embedded a few meaningful Aramaic sentences” (Bohak 2008, p. 176). Additional texts could be


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adduced (including Shiur Qomah), but the key issue is that these nonsensical words are efficacious: “Rabbi Ishmael said: ‘Whoever recites this great secret, his face shines, his bodily statute is fine, his fear lays upon the people …. He is well off in this world, and all right in the world to come … the evil inclination does not rule over him, and he is saved from the spirits and the demons and from robbers, and from all noxious animals … and from all demons” (Bohak 2008, p. 332). These practices are not unusual. To the contrary, the use of voces magicae is well‐rooted in Mediterranean magical practices. What is remarkable is that the authors do not attempt to harness the creative power presumably embedded in Hebrew, the language of creation (see Ronis, Chapter 24). An important exception is Sefer Yetzirah, “The Book of Creation,” which identifies the basic building blocks of the cosmos with 32 “paths,” consisting of the numbers 1–10 and the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The biblical logic of the argument is evident: God created the world through Hebrew utterances (“let there be light” and so on), thus the Hebrew language contains within it a creative power that is borne by its most basic elements, the letters. The key difficulty with this unabashedly Hebrew‐centric text is its dating. Some scholars locate the composition of Sefer Yetzirah as early as the first century ce, others to the end of the eighth century (see Liebes 2000, pp. 229–237, who surveys the literature and argues for the early date). Irrespective, the book stands as an important marker for shifting notions of language. Late antique Jewish sources generally do not consider Hebrew to be a core element in Jewish identity, and even magical texts (which we might expect to draw on the linguistic account of God’s creation of the world) tend to be in Aramaic. For many scholars in the modern period, however, the centrality of Hebrew was axiomatic, and Sefer Yetzirah came to be understood not as an anomaly but as an expression of the linguistic aspect of Jewish identity.

NOTE 1 A Dead Sea Scrolls fragment, 4Q464, may include a return to Hebrew as an element of the eschaton, on which see Eshel and Stone (1993). However, much of the relevant passages has been lost, and even if Eshel and Stone’s reconstruction is correct in every regard, the eschatology of the fragment is unusual for the Qumran sources.

REFERENCES Bohak, Gideon (2008). Ancient Jewish Magic: A History. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. Charlesworth, James H. (ed.) (1985). The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 2 vols. New York: Doubleday. Eshel, Esther and Stone, Michael E. (1993). The Holy Language at the end of days in light of a new fragment found at Qumran. Tarbiz 62: 169–177. Fassberg, Steven E. (2012). Which Semitic language did Jesus and other contemporary Jews speak? The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 74: 263–280. García Martinez, Florentino and Tigchelaar, Eibert J.C. (1997). The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition. Leiden: Brill.

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Hammer, Reuven. (1986). Sifre: A Tannaitic Commentary on the Book of Deuteronomy. New Haven: Yale University Press. Janowitz, Naomi (1989). The Poetics of Ascent: Theories of Language in a Rabbinic Ascent Text. Albany: State University of New York Press. Joosten, J. (2016). Septuagint Greek and the Jewish sociolect in Egypt. In: Die Sprache der Septuaginta/The Language of the Septuagint (ed. Eberhard Bons and J. Joosten), 246–256. Gütersloh: Gütersloher. Kahn, Lily and Rubin, Aaron D. (2016). A Handbook of Jewish Languages. Leiden: Brill. Le Bohec, Yann (1981). Inscriptions juives et judaïsantes de l’Afrique romaine. Antiquités africaines 17: 165–207. Liebes, Yehuda (2000). Ars Poetica in Sefer Yetsira. Jerusalem: Magnes. Mendels, Doron (1992). The Rise and Fall of Jewish Nationalism: Jewish and Christian Ethnicity in Ancient Palestine. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. Noy, David (1993). Jewish Inscriptions of Western Europe, vol. 1: Italy (Excluding the City of Rome), Spain and Gaul. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Price, Jonathan and Misgav, Haggai (2006). Jewish inscriptions and their use. In: The Literature of the Sages, 1e (eds. Shmuel Safrai, Zeev Safrai, Joshua Schwarz, and Peter J. Tomson), 461–484, 2 vols. Assen: Royal Van Gorcum and Fortress. Schwartz, Seth (1995). Language, power and identity in ancient Palestine. Past and Present 148: 3–47. Segal, M.H. (1908). Mishnaic Hebrew and its relation to Biblical Hebrew and to Aramaic. Jewish Quarterly Review 20: 647–673. Segal, M.H. (1927). A Grammar of Mishnaic Hebrew. Oxford: Clarendon. Smelik, Willem F. (2013). Rabbis, Language and Translation in Late Antiquity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Sperber, Daniel (1984). A Dictionary of Greek and Latin Legal Terms in Rabbinic Literature. Ramat Gan: Bar Ilan University Press. Tabori, Yosef and Atzmon, Aaron (2014). A Synoptic Edition of Midrash Esther Rabbah. Jerusalem: Schechter Institute. Theodor, Judah and Albeck, Chanoch (eds.) (1965). Midrash Bereshit Rabba’. Jerusalem: Wahrman. Thompson, Steven (2010). Gustaf Dalman, anti‐semitism, and the language of Jesus debate. Journal of Religious History 34: 36–54.


Literature of the Jews, Fourth Century bce to Second Century ce Eva Mroczek Introduction The period between the fourth century bce and second century ce was richly productive for Jewish literature. Many genres flourished in the three Jewish languages, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek: new tales featuring characters we know from the Bible; religious poetry; pedagogical material; visions of heaven and future times; popular fiction; translation projects; and historical and philosophical writing that took on the conventions of Hellenistic Greek scholarship. While most of the texts that would eventually become part of the canonized Hebrew Bible were already circulating, this period also saw the production of new texts that claimed to be divinely inspired and were received as authoritative. Until the end of this period, the biblical canon was not fixed: the literary world was conceptualized in far broader ways, organized around multiple centers, without a single unified collection to serve as its focus.

Chronologies and Categories What does it mean to speak of “Jews” or “Jewish” identity during this time? Many scholars have debated the very use of the word “Jew,” because it anachronistically suggests a religion, a category that implies voluntary participation in a community based on a coherent set of shared beliefs and practices. However, as Daniel Boyarin has shown (Boyarin 2004), there was no single set of features that we can call “Judaism.” He argues that it was only constructed as a religion later, when heresiologists constructed a boundary between Judaism and Christianity. Many scholars translate the Greek word Ioudaios, from which A Companion to Late Ancient Jews and Judaism: Third Century bce to Seventh Century ce, First Edition. Edited by Naomi Koltun-Fromm and Gwynn Kessler. © 2020 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published 2020 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


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our word “Jew” derives, as “Judaean,” arguing that this ethnic marker more accurately expresses how people thought about cultural belonging and difference in the Hellenistic world (Mason 2007). The “Judaean” identity comprises geographical origins and the distinctive traditions, customs, laws, and deities associated with an ethnos, a “people,” in the same way that Egyptian or Idumean identity would (Mason 2007; Reinhartz, et al. 2014). The terminology continues to be hotly debated and we will not resolve it here; I use “Jewish” with the understanding that we do not assume an identity or linear continuity with later rabbinic Judaism, but a broad diversity of practices and traditions, and that the category is not necessarily “religious” in the modern sense, but also ethnic and cultural. Another problem is that much of the literature we tend to include in this category was not used in later Jewish communities and was only preserved—and edited—by Christian scribes of late antiquity. While many likely originated, in some form, in pre‐ Christian Jewish contexts, we cannot uncritically use them as direct sources of knowledge of Jewish culture and practice (Kraft 2009; see more below under “The Challenges”). Chronologically, our scope includes writings composed after most of the Hebrew Bible, and before the Mishnah, which is dated to about 200 ce (Nickelsburg 2005). This period includes the composition of some biblical material: Ezra‐Nehemiah, the account of the return from the Babylonian Exile; Chronicles, a rewriting of the narrative of Samuel and Kings from the perspective of the Persian period; and Daniel, the anthology dated to about 167–164 bce. It also includes the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, and we should also consider much of the New Testament to be part of Jewish literary production of this period. For the most part, however, our corpus has been considered in terms of a few overlapping groups, which are not ancient concepts but modern scholarly categories. Apocrypha means “hidden” in Greek, but has a technical meaning: it denotes the texts that are part of the Catholic and Orthodox Bibles but not found in the Jewish Tanakh or the Protestant Christian canon. Works such as Judith, Tobit, Sirach (Ben Sira), and 1 and 2 Maccabees, were included in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures and the Bible used by early Christians, but did not become part of the rabbinic Jewish canon. Pseudepigrapha, “false writings,” are texts attributed to ancient figures, such as Enoch (like 1 Enoch, a collection of texts about Enoch’s heavenly journeys), Moses (Jubilees, a retelling of what was revealed to Moses on Sinai), and Ezra (4Ezra, visions of the end of days in the wake of the Roman destruction). These texts survived mostly in Christian contexts and are not canonical for most modern communities, although the canon of the Ethiopic Orthodox Church includes 1 Enoch and Jubilees. The Dead Sea Scrolls comprise about one thousand manuscripts found in the 1940s and 1950s in 11 caves by the Dead Sea, near the ruins of a settlement called Qumran. Palaeography (handwriting style) and carbon dating place the physical manuscripts between the third century bce and the first century ce. They belonged to a group of Jews who left Jerusalem to live a life of prayer and discipline in the desert. The Scrolls include the oldest manuscripts ever found of every book in the Hebrew Bible except Esther (the next oldest biblical manuscripts are about a thousand years later!), though most are fragmentary. The literature also includes hymns and prayers, visions attributed to ancient patriarchs, and literature specific to the group that inhabited the site, including the rules

Literature of the Jews, Fourth Century bce to Second Century ce


that governed their communal life, such as group initiation and purity regulations. Some texts that belong to the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha were also prominent among the Scrolls: parts of both 1 Enoch and Jubilees, for example, were found in multiple manuscripts, and they seemed to hold great authority in the community (VanderKam 1998). Among the Scrolls, we might also identify a subcategory of literature written in Aramaic, much of which was concerned with dream‐visions and patriarchal narratives, including 1 Enoch, the Genesis Apocryphon, the Aramaic Levi Document, and shorter, more fragmentary visionary texts. The Scrolls include not only the oldest biblical manuscripts but they also present a far wider literary world, where a larger variety of literature circulated and the texts we consider biblical were not yet collected into a canon (cf. García Martínez 2012). Finally, we have a large and diverse group of Jewish texts written in Greek in the Diaspora that demonstrate that Jews were full participants in the traditions of Greek education and produced historical and philosophical writing (Gruen 1998). Our most prominent Greek sources are Philo of Alexandria and Flavius Josephus, two rare authors whose names and biographies we know and who have both left a large volume of work. Our corpus is often called “Second Temple Literature.” Chronologically, the Second Temple Period begins when the Jerusalem Temple was rebuilt after the Babylonian Exile (late sixth century bce) and ends when the Romans destroyed it (70 ce). Much of the Hebrew Bible itself was composed in this period: not only the obviously post‐exilic texts, like Ezra‐Nehemiah, but also layers of the Pentateuch and its compilation, many Psalms, portions of Isaiah, and more. Although these biblical materials date from the Second Temple Period, they are not typically included in the category of “Second Temple Literature,” as that term is usually used to refer to the mostly non‐biblical texts in our survey. Hence, the scope of this chapter, the “Literature of the Jews, fourth century bce to second ce” is broader than “Second Temple Literature” as most commonly understood.

The Challenges Why is this large group of diverse, multilingual texts considered a single corpus at all? Given its multiple geographical origins, political perspectives, and genres, it is hard to see how it forms a coherent collection. In the history of scholarship, this literature has been considered an “in‐between” stage, a kind of bridge, after the Bible and before rabbinic Judaism and Christianity. In fact, these texts used to be called “intertestamental,” meaning that they came between the Old and New Testaments. We are used to thinking about these texts as a group because they are separate from these traditions, but relevant to their study. Grouping these texts into a corpus “between” better‐known, normative traditions is an easy way to mentally organize a large amount of information, but it also distorts our picture of how both biblical and non‐biblical texts developed and were used by early Jews. For example, the biblical book of Daniel (second century bce) falls into this period, but the more serious issue with a timeline that sees this literature as “post‐biblical” is that, at this time, there was no such thing as “the Bible” from which other texts could be separated (Bowley and Reeves 2003; Mroczek 2016). To be sure, most of the texts that later


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came to make up the Bible were already circulating, but they did not yet form a canon, a fixed, unified, or closed collection that was set apart from other texts. First, many scriptural books did not yet have a single form. The texts were still developing and different versions existed side by side, as the versions of Exodus, Jeremiah, and Psalms in the Dead Sea Scrolls demonstrate. Second, and more importantly, the idea of a boundary between “biblical” and “non‐biblical” did not exist yet. Modern scholars encounter most of this literature as a separate corpus from the Bible, but this distinction would not have made sense to ancient people (Barton 1986; Mroczek 2016). The texts that now make up the Bible were not yet collected into a single corpus that was closed off from other writings. Instead, Jews possessed a larger, and less strictly ordered, repertoire of literature, and what we consider “biblical” was not necessarily always at the top of the hierarchy (Reeves 2010). Texts not found in most later Jewish or Christian canons, such as 1 Enoch or Jubilees, were highly valued and considered divinely inspired, no less than Genesis or Jeremiah, and probably more than some texts that did become canonical. Based on what the ancient writers themselves suggest, the repertoire of revealed writing during this period—until its very end—was imagined not in terms of a fixed corpus with defined contents, but as a story about a multiform written revelation that stretches back to ancient times, takes various paths through ancient heroes and documents, and is never fully available in any one scribal product (Mroczek 2016, pp. 114–155). The history of anti‐Semitism and supersessionism—the Christian idea that Judaism had been rightfully replaced, or superseded, by Christianity (Collins 2010, pp. 1–29)—has also adversely affected the modern literary study of this corpus. “Intertestamental” connotes a Christian bias, in that the term assumes that this “intermediate” literature points ahead to its culmination in the New Testament. This language further promotes a negative judgment on the Judaism of the time period and a theological claim that it was ripe for replacement by emergent Christianity. In the nineteenth century, Julius Wellhausen named this era “Spätjudentum,” “Late Judaism,” describing it as a moribund culture that had degenerated from the spiritual heights of the Hebrew Bible, and was now derivative, and obsessed with the details of religious law. This spiritually bankrupt religious culture would soon be replaced by Christianity, which took over the authentic spiritual legacy of the Hebrew Bible, while Judaism descended further into legalism (see, for example, Charles 1913). The rich vital literature from this period clearly shows this is false. No understanding of the origins of Judaism, Christianity, or biblical interpretation is possible without these sources. However, beginning with questions of how they contribute to our understanding of later religious developments risks creating a distorted picture, where, as Michael Stone (1978, 2011) has warned, only those elements that have linear links to later phenomena connected with “orthodox” forms of Judaism and Christianity come into focus. Phenomena not directly related to this question might not become visible. For instance, this literature is frequently studied in relation to the canonical Bible (see Feldman, Kugel, and Schiffman 2013). It is part of a model where the Bible is the central focus of all literary culture and other texts arrange themselves around it or below it. Thus, the texts we are considering here are often considered through categories like “biblical interpretation” or “rewritten Bible,” even though there was not yet a “Bible” as a demarcated corpus—and even though their primary purpose may not have been to “interpret”

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or “rewrite” the Bible but to create a new text, even new scripture. Because the Bible is naturally central to modern biblical scholars, we often assume it was just as central to ancient writers. In reality, the literature of this period is varied and multifocal, and not always focused on the Bible as we know it. As Robert Kraft has urged, we should break free of “the tyranny of canonical assumptions” (Kraft 2007, p. 17); that is, we should not assume that early Jews always prioritized the texts of the Hebrew Bible, that references to scripture always point to the Bible as we know it, or that early Jewish writers’ primary interest was biblical interpretation. Another major challenge is how our source material has come down to us. The texts we have from this time period have not survived intact. Some of the texts written in Hebrew or Aramaic, such as Enoch and Jubilees, were found in their original languages among the Dead Sea Scrolls, in manuscripts from the second century bce through the first century ce. Most manuscripts are fragmentary and do not give us the complete text. For example, the most complete versions of Enoch and Jubilees exist only in translations into Ethiopic, preserved as scripture in the Ethiopic Orthodox Church. For many other texts, we have no such glimpses into their earliest lives. Many of these writings exist only in translations—often translations of translations! For example, the most complete versions of 4Ezra are in Syriac and Latin, and 2 Enoch survives only in Slavonic. Beyond the first century ce, most were only transmitted—often heavily reworked—by Christian scribes (Kraft 2009). Other texts survived only because they were partially quoted in the works of late antique Christian authors, who were not primarily interested in preserving these texts, but used them selectively for their own theological purposes (Berthelot 2010, p. 230). Because they have survived only in much later, heavily edited Christian manuscripts, it is often impossible to tell what was part of their earliest iterations as Jewish texts and what is a product of their later Christian redactors. We must acknowledge how difficult it is to use these materials as sources for early Judaism in any direct way. Some scholars, in fact, have argued that they are more useful for understanding the Christian communities who preserved and used them than for telling us about the earlier Jewish world where we think they originated (Kraft 2009).

Key Features We can now look at a few of the major features that emerge when we study this literature as a group: its multilingual nature, including the practice of translation; concerns about defining and maintaining a distinct identity; pseudonymous attribution as a common literary practice; and the prominence of apocalypticism.

Language This literature is multilingual, in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek (see Yadin‐Israel, Chapter 4). The lingua franca of the Persian empire (539–323 bce) was Aramaic. The Hellenistic period (323–63 bce) introduced Greek as the language of empire. Hebrew continued to be written, and it experienced a revival during the time of Jewish sovereignty after the


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Maccabean revolt, when it was used on coins and inscriptions. New literature written in Hebrew includes Ben Sira, Jubilees, and sectarian literature from Qumran. In Aramaic, we have 1 Enoch – dating at least to the third century bce—and Daniel 2–7, as well as the Genesis Apocryphon (a first‐person text about the lives of Enoch, Abraham, and Noah found at Qumran), and other Qumran texts describing revelations to ancient patriarchs. Scholars date the origins of targum—Aramaic translations of Hebrew Scripture—to our period, but, although an Aramaic version of Job and some Leviticus fragments were found at Qumran, no manuscripts resemble later targums. We may also place the origins of the Peshitta—the translation used by Syriac‐speaking Christians—to around the first to third centuries (see Koltun‐Fromm, Chapter 10). While most of the Dead Sea Scrolls are written in Hebrew and Aramaic, some Greek texts have also been found at Qumran. Alexandria, the center of Hellenistic scholarship, was the birthplace of a large body of Jewish literature in Greek, including the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (Gruen 1998). We know little about how this really happened, but later texts such as the second century bce Letter of Aristeas tell us how it was imagined in retrospect: the text describes a group of Jewish scholars who share their wisdom with an admiring King Ptolemy and who produced a Greek translation of the Law identical in spiritual value to the Hebrew original. In a later re‐telling of this story, Philo of Alexandria presents the translation as a new revelation: through a divine miracle, 70 sages independently produced identical texts. It is unclear if Philo himself knew Hebrew, but this did not seem to be an obstacle to Jewish learning, as Greek had become a Jewish language in its own right. Some Jews in the diaspora were immersed in the traditions of Hellenistic scholarship, and acknowledged that this was not in conflict with their Jewishness: it was the mode in which they lived and expressed it. Finally, among literature written by Hellenistic Jews in Greek, we may include many of the texts in the New Testament. The writings of Paul, in fact, are the only surviving texts written by a self‐identified Pharisee (see Haney, Chapter 15).

Constructing Identity Even so, concerns about distinct identity come through clearly in the literature of our period (Cohen 1999). Many texts are interested in defining boundaries against others: Jubilees, for example, completely rejects intermarriage, setting up a strict separation between Jews and Gentiles (Jub. 30). The distinctiveness of Jewish practice, such as circumcision and dietary laws, are key for texts written around the Maccabean revolt, which our sources explain as a reaction to persecution by Hellenistic rulers who wished to outlaw these traditions (1 and 2 Maccabees, Judith). Yet these writers push and manipulate the very boundaries of what it means to particular groups of Jews or Judaeans to be “Jewish,” which may not appeal to other groups of Jews or Judaeans. “Jewishness” remains a fluid category in this period.

Pseudonymous Attribution A feature of many of the texts written in this period is pseudepigraphy, meaning they are attributed not to their real authors, but to a figure from the ancient past. The word “pseudepigraphy” literally means “false ascription,” which clearly sounds pejorative: for a long time people associated pseudepigraphic texts with forgery and deception, comparing

Literature of the Jews, Fourth Century bce to Second Century ce


them unfavorably to canonical texts that were considered authentic (Reed 2009; Stuckenbruck 2010). Today, no scholar believes that Enoch wrote 1 Enoch or that Ezra really wrote 4Ezra. We know these texts were written much later. Modern scholars also know that many biblical texts came to be pseudonymously attributed (e.g., Torah to Moses, many Psalms to David, the latter parts of Isaiah to Isaiah, the prophet, etc.); pseudepigraphy is not a feature that distinguished canonical from non‐canonical texts (Najman 2003). Moreover, scholars now see pseudepigraphy as a common ancient literary practice, realizing that early Jewish writers did not think about individual authorship in modern terms. Instead, we might think of placing a text in the mouth of an ancient figure as an act of deference, an appeal to the authority of somebody more important, an attempt to extend the legacy of an ancient hero for a new audience, thus creating “a discourse tied to a founder” (Najman 2003). Different figures were associated with different discourses— Moses with law, Jeremiah with lament, and Ezra with post‐destruction recovery—becoming figureheads or symbolic founders of these developing traditions. Not only do these figures lend their authority to new creations but the new texts also emerge from an interest in writing new stories about these characters (Mroczek 2016, pp. 51–85). Unsurprisingly, of course, the figures traditionally charged with the transmission of traditions are male patriarchs and visionaries. Early Jewish writers were, however, interested in embellishing the tales of female biblical characters, often naming unnamed women and giving them more active roles and voices in new narratives (e.g., Jubilees, Genesis Apocryphon, and further below under “Early Jewish ‘Novels’”). In a few texts, notably the Testament of Job and parts of the Sibylline Oracles, women receive a more prominent role in the transmission of knowledge, appearing as channels of ecstatically received divine revelation.

Apocalypticism A major development in our period is the rise of apocalyptic literature (see Collins 1998). “Apocalypse,” from the Greek word for “unveiling” or “disclosure,” refers to a literary genre of texts that claim to reveal the secrets of heaven, a soon to be revealed new political reality and/or an expected end time. Dissatisfied with history and human striving, writers of apocalyptic literature expected that radical transformation was at hand: God would break into history, vindicate Israel and defeat its enemies, reward the righteous and punish the wicked, and—after great violence and sometimes a return to primordial chaos—­ establish a new age of peace and perfection. Nature itself would be renewed and sometimes a messianic leader would usher in the new reality. Frequently—as in such texts as the book of Daniel, parts of 1 Enoch, 4Ezra, 2 Baruch, and the Apocalypse of Zephaniah— apocalypses feature an angelic figure who reveals these secrets to a human character (the New Testament text Revelation also falls into this category and shares motifs with many of these earlier or contemporary texts).

Spotlight on Key Genres and Texts We can now turn to a few of the most significant examples that illustrate the variety of Jewish literature and some of the challenges of studying it.


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1 Enoch and Daniel: Apocalypse, Pseudepigraphy, and Expanding Collections Literature associated with the patriarch Enoch is one of the most prominent collections in our period. Enoch, the seventh generation from Adam, appears briefly in Genesis 5. Unlike the rest of the genealogical passages, the text does not say that he died, but rather that “God took him” (5: 24). Enochic literature narrates Enoch’s removal from earthly life to receive revelation about the movements of the stars, the secrets of heaven, and the fate of the righteous and wicked in the last days. Enoch becomes a heavenly scribe, recording all the secrets he is shown. These stories of Enoch’s heavenly journeys are not merely “biblical interpretation” generated by the mysterious, elliptical passage in Genesis; they constitute a separate tradition with links to ancient Babylonian astronomy and myth that traveled to Judaea via Aramaic scribal education (Sanders 2016). Composed in Aramaic, elements of this literature were already circulating by about 300 bce. Early texts about Enoch were collected into the corpus of five compositions that scholars call 1 Enoch, known in full only in Ge’ez (Ethiopic) translation, which itself is based on a Greek translation of the Aramaic original. Eleven fragmentary Aramaic manuscripts of different parts of the Enochic corpus were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, giving us not only partial evidence for how this material was read in its original language but also showing that it was a prominent part of the literary repertoire (Reed 2005). Enoch’s status as an ideal scribe becomes a popular motif in early Judaism. Jubilees, for example, emphasizes that he was the first human to learn writing, and places him in Eden still, continuously writing down the deeds of the righteous and the wicked until the end of history (Jub. 4: 23–24; Mroczek 2016, pp. 144–145). The corpus of Enochic literature continued to expand, as subsequent generations of writers added new accounts of the heavenly secrets revealed to this scribal hero. In addition to the 1 Enoch collection, another text, known as 2 Enoch, has survived in Slavonic translation, with some fragments in Coptic. It contains elements that probably date back to the late Second Temple period and relates Enoch’s journey through the seven heavens to meet God face to face, imbuing him with more and more angel‐like characteristics. Enoch became a kind of patron or exemplar for scribes, who saw in him their own inspired ideal (Sanders 2016). The only biblical text in this survey—the book of Daniel—is not the oldest in the corpus: the early sections of 1 Enoch are older than Daniel. Like 1 Enoch, Daniel is not really a “book,” but an anthology of narratives and visions linked with one protagonist (Holm 2014). Scholars date Daniel in its present compiled form precisely to 167–164 bce because it refers symbolically, yet obviously, to events from the persecution of the Seleucid King Antiochus IV, even as the narrative is set in the Babylonian court during the Exile. The first six chapters belong to a tradition of storytelling about a sage in a foreign court, which includes Joseph in the court of Pharaoh (Gen. 40–47). Like Joseph, Daniel is a divinely favored dream interpreter, with insight none of the local wise men possess. Daniel is repeatedly saved from peril—such as emerging unharmed from a lions’ den (6)— through divine protection. These stories are meant to communicate that God saved Daniel—and will save Israel—from every dire strait, and has sovereignty over every earthly ruler. The final four chapters of Daniel contain apocalyptic dream visions, cryptic and symbolic tableaux that reveal what will happen in the last days. Memorably, Daniel con-

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tains a vision of God on a heavenly throne, with white hair and flowing white robes (7: 9). Daniel is unusual in that it is written in both Hebrew (1, 8–12) and Aramaic (2–7), and the different languages do not correspond to the clear split between the different genres in 1–6 and 7–12. Even more texts featuring the Daniel character were written in Greek and transmitted as part of Daniel in the Septuagint. The Daniel tradition illustrates how collections related to a protagonist could be expanded, compiled, and circulated across all three Jewish languages.

Jubilees and Pesharim: Ancient Figures, New Scriptures, and Genres of Interpretation The Book of Jubilees is one of the most important texts of our period. Found in about fifteen Hebrew manuscripts at Qumran, where it was apparently held in high regard, this text was previously known to scholars only in Ge’ez (Ethiopic), and is part of the canon for Ethiopic Christians and Beta Israel (Ethiopian Jews). Composed in the second century bce, Jubilees presents an alternative or additional account of the revelation to Moses on Sinai. The Angel of the Presence instructs Moses to write down Israel’s history from creation and dictates to him the laws found on the “heavenly tablets.” Jubilees draws on parts of 1 Enoch for its account of the fallen angels, but mostly follows the narrative of Genesis and Exodus, with extensive embellishment. It fills in gaps and smooths out problems with the text: for example, in Genesis 2: 16–17, God tells Adam not to eat the forbidden fruit, saying that on the day that he eats it, he will die. Of course, Adam does not die, but lives for 930 years; Jubilees explains this apparent inconsistency with recourse to a line in Ps 90: 4, which says that in the eyes of God, “a day” is like a thousand years. Adam did die on that same “day”—that is, at 930, well before his 1000th birthday—just as God said he would (4: 30)! Jubilees also incorporates law into the narratives of Genesis (Kugel 1997; Feldman, Kugel, and Schiffman, 2013), for example, by adding purity laws related to childbirth to the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden (3: 10–13). Jubilees also goes ­further than the Pentateuch in a complete rejection of intermarriage (e.g., Jub. 30), advocating for strict separation between Jews and Gentiles. Scholars often study Jubilees as “rewritten Bible” or “biblical interpretation,” for it solves various textual interpretive problems. However, it does not present itself as a commentary on the biblical texts, or as secondary or derivative: it claims to be revelation itself, directly from the Angel of the Presence and the heavenly tablets (Najman 2003; Mroczek 2016), and within its narrative world, it is not focused on the Bible as we know it. Instead, its history of Israel is intertwined with a history of other writings: Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Jacob all become scribal figures who receive written revelations in various forms and pass them down through the generations. Moses becomes a latecomer in this story about a long chain of writers. Here, we have one example of how a second century bce writer wanted to relate Jewish literary history, and while it draws deeply on biblical traditions, it  also imagines a wider, heterogeneous corpus of sacred literature stretching back to ­patriarchal times. Jubilees demonstrates that early Jewish writers acknowledged inconsistencies and gaps in biblical texts and had ways of explaining them (Kugel 1997; Feldman, Kugel, and Schiffman 2013). However, for the most part, their interpretations did not draw attention


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to themselves explicitly as exegesis. That is, they did not present a passage of scripture and then offer an interpretation or interpretations, as we see in later commentary genres. Instead, as we see in Jubilees, the interpretive solutions are presented via a newly composed narrative where inconsistencies could be resolved, gaps filled in, skeletal stories embellished, and reputations rescued. One sectarian corpus from the Dead Sea Scrolls does resemble the commentary genre: the Pesher (“interpretation”) texts, for example, of Pesher Habakkuk, Pesher Nahum, and Pesher on Psalms. These texts present a lemma—passage from the scriptural text— which is then followed by the word “pishro,” “its interpretation,” and an explanation of the meaning of the verse. The kinds of interpretations offered are actualizing: they read the passages as if they referred to contemporary people and events. The enemies in prophetic texts, for example, are identified with the community’s opponents in Jerusalem and with Roman troops. While the commentary form of the pesharim may at first seem reminiscent of rabbinic Midrash, its focus on actualizing exegesis in fact makes it quite different from Midrash, where we see an interest in linking together ­different narratives, exploring the possibilities of language and offering multiple interpretations (see Fraade 2007).

Ben Sira: Wisdom and Pedagogy The Book of Ben Sira (Sirach/Ecclesiasticus; see Wright 2008) was written in Hebrew in the early second century bce as a pedagogical treatise, deeply influenced by the book of Proverbs—both in the kind of traditional conservative wisdom it offers to young men and the way it personifies Wisdom as a female figure. Ben Sira goes even further, equating personified Wisdom with Torah (Sir. 24). The book ends with an erotically tinged first person poem about a young man seeking Wisdom (51: 13–30), which is also found in a Psalms collection from Qumran (11QPsa)1. Ben Sira, like Proverbs, idealizes Lady Wisdom, but writes about real women with strident misogyny. Many texts of our period present women as dangerous sources of temptation who lead men astray (see especially 4Q184, “Wiles of the Wicked Woman,” and parts of the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs), but Ben Sira’s rhetoric stands out as particularly harsh. He encouraged men to marry modest and obedient wives (26: 1–4, 13–18), but spends more time warning his male audience about seductive women, who will betray, humiliate, exhaust, and ruin them. Daughters, it seems, are almost as harmful as the wrong kind of wife, as they risk bringing shame on to their fathers (42: 9–11). It is preferable to deal with a lion or a dragon than a wicked woman (25: 16), and even a woman’s kindness is worse than a man’s spite (42: 14). This attitude seems intertwined with Ben Sira’s understanding of the origins of sin, as he presents a parade example of a misogynistic interpretation of the story of Adam and Eve in the garden: “With a woman sin had a beginning, and because of her we all die (25: 24).” When he has finished dispensing his warnings, Ben Sira also offers a poetic overview of the accomplishments of great biblical men—ending with florid praise of the High Priest Simeon II (219–196). Ben Sira proves exceptional among early Jewish texts as the first book authored by a  known figure: Joshua Ben Eliezer Ben Sira. He writes in 50: 27: “Instruction in

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­ nderstanding and knowledge I have written in this book, Jesus (Joshua) son of Eleazar u son of Sirach of Jerusalem, whose mind poured forth wisdom” in the Greek translation (the  Hebrew manuscript has a somewhat different version). Yet, Ben Sira is not an “author” in any modern sense, but is more of a scribal collector and transmitter of traditions than the creator of an original and complete work. The text, too, exists in a variety of forms, showing that it was less a self‐contained “book” than a continuously developing project, open to rearrangement and expansion by both Ben Sira and his intellectual heirs. Ben Sira is part of the Apocrypha, that is, it is scriptural for Catholic and Orthodox Christians, but not for Protestants or Jews. However, unlike most of the other texts surveyed here, which survived only in Christian transmission, Ben Sira seems to have been a fairly well‐known work in Jewish circles: it is loosely cited in some rabbinic literature as a source of wisdom and instruction. While the text is known primarily from the Greek translation made by somebody who claims to be Ben Sira’s grandson, there are ancient Hebrew fragments from Qumran and Masada and extensive medieval manuscripts in Hebrew from the Cairo Geniza.

The Maccabean Revolt: History, Identity, and Edification One important theme in Jewish literary production in the second century was the Maccabean Revolt, a successful rebellion against the Seleucid rulers of Judaea that resulted in Judaean sovereignty under the Hasmonean dynasty (or the “Maccabees,” meaning “hammer”) until the Roman conquest in 63 bce. Our major sources for the revolt’s history are historical narratives preserved in Greek in the Septuagint: 1 Maccabees (originally written in Hebrew) and 2 Maccabees (written in Greek). Both 1 and 2 Maccabees claim to relate history, but, like all texts, they serve an agenda: they defend the Hasmoneans—who were not from a high priestly or royal lineage, but still became High Priests and later also called themselves kings—as the legitimate and divinely favored rulers of Judaea. These texts portray protagonists praying and acting with divine help. Poetic interludes intersperse the prose in biblical literary imitation. Second Maccabees claims authority from a much longer work by a Jason of Cyrene, a figure we do not know from any other texts. It covers only a part of the events reported in 1 Maccabees, and instead it presents edifying, inspiring, dramatic, and sometimes graphic accounts of heroism in the face of persecution. Indeed, it is the earliest source that valorizes martyrdom, that is, dying for one’s religious convictions. The writer relates the story of Eleazar (6), an old man who is flogged to death for refusing to eat pork, and a mother who encourages her seven sons, one by one, to submit to death and torture rather than eat pork (7), among others. Second Maccabees not only valorizes martyrdom, but also presents the first recorded belief in bodily resurrection (7: 11, 14: 46). It thus became a popular text for  many Christians, who also valorized martyrdom and the promised resurrection of the faithful. In the literature associated with the Maccabean Revolt, we see heightened nationalism and uncompromising allegiance to practices that set Jews apart from others, especially dietary laws and circumcision. We can see these ideas emphasized in texts like Judith (below), probably written around the same time.


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Philo of Alexandria: Alexandrian Philosophy and Ancestral Tradition Alexandria became a center of scholarship in the Hellenistic world and Jews participated in the scholarly tradition. The Letter of Aristeas, for example, places Jewish traditions in dialogue with Greek thought and defends their place in the Alexandrian intellectual world. Philo, who lived in the first half of the first century ce, is the most prominent Alexandrian Jewish philosopher and writer. In his prolific oeuvre, he presents the ancestral traditions of the Jews, especially the Pentateuch, through the lens of Greek philosophy. He explains its inconsistencies and repetitions, mythic tropes, and sometimes strange laws through allegorical exegesis, highlighting what he sees as their symbolic or moral meanings. For example, Philo, like modern scholars, acknowledges that Genesis 1–3 presents two accounts of human creation. Yet they are not contradictory or redundant, but can be explained in Platonic terms: the first account, where creation is through God’s speech, refers to the creation of the spiritual, ideal human; and the second, where Adam is created from clay, refers to the particular, physical human being (Allegorical Interpretation 31). For Philo, too, the journeys of Abraham in Genesis represent the steps of a soul’s journey toward God (On Abraham). But Philo does not dismiss the literal details of the texts: he insists, for instance, that one must follow the biblical purity laws, though this, too, serves an ethical goal. For instance, the specific prohibition against eating pork keeps Jews from falling into the sin of decadent gluttony—because, as Philo claims, of every kind of meat, the pig is most delicious, and “all who eat it agree” (Special Laws 4.101).

Early Jewish “Novels” Jewish literature presents itself as revelation, pedagogy, prayer, history, even philosophy, but some literature was composed primarily for entertainment: scholars have identified a genre they call the “ancient Jewish novel,” including Judith, Tobit, and Joseph and Aseneth (Wills 2015). These dramatic tales of adventure, romance, and intrigue draw on characters and settings found in earlier biblical texts and read similarly to Hellenistic romance writing. Such tales were written in Hebrew and Aramaic, and flourished in the Greek‐speaking Jewish world, both as translations and new texts. They feature prominent female characters and include an obvious “moral” about steadfast courage, celebration of distinctive Jewish identity, and traditional values. Judith is a prominent example of this genre. It survives in Greek, but it is likely that it had a Hebrew original written in the second century bce. Judith is a story about the siege of a city that is saved from its enemies by the courage and shrewdness of a female hero. The tale signals its fictionality at the very beginning, conflating several historical settings and characters: it sets itself after a period of exile, but its villain is Nebuchadnezzar, King of Assyria, who reigns in Nineveh. In fact, Nebuchadnezzar was king of Babylon, not Assyria, and he did not reign after the exile, but conquered Jerusalem in 586 bce, which marked the exile’s beginning. Assyria was a great power two centuries earlier. Anachronistically setting the stage by conflating three different periods, the story places

Literature of the Jews, Fourth Century bce to Second Century ce


itself outside of historical time. It also uses typological names, such as “Bethuliah,” “virgin,” for the town, and “Judith,” “Jewish woman,” for its main character, adding to its timeless, universal quality. The story celebrates Judith’s intelligence and courage, but also her adherence to traditional ideals of morality for women and to Jewish purity laws, and it emphasizes the role of divine protection in the triumph of Bethuliah against its enemies. The Book of Tobit is also found in Greek in the Apocrypha, but, unlike Judith, fragments of this text have been found in both Hebrew and Aramaic at Qumran: scholars now date the text to at least the second century bce or earlier, before Daniel. It is a family saga, an adventure story set in the ancient past– just after the fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel to Assyria in 722 bce. Interestingly, the narrative makes the main character, Tobit, the uncle of Ahiqar, a legendary sage of Sennacherib of Assyria, whose story is found in Aramaic in papyri from Elephantine (ca. fifth century bce). The author of Tobit, then, linked his tale with an already well‐known character associated with the wisdom tradition. This melodramatic narrative is filled with strange and often humorous episodes, demons, animals, and angels in disguise—and concludes with a happy ending. It also aims to communicate a set of pious values: the importance of marriage, prayer, fasting, and burying the dead. Another example, Joseph and Aseneth, has a different history of transmission and illustrates some of the broader problems our sources present. This story unfolds from a tension within the story of Joseph in Genesis: Joseph does not marry a woman from his own people, but an Egyptian—the daughter of an Egyptian priest, no less. Joseph and Aseneth tackles the problem of Joseph’s suspect marriage by telling a story about how Aseneth fell madly in love with Joseph, converted from worshipping Egypt’s deities to worshipping Joseph’s God, and finally married Joseph, who ruled Egypt with her as his queen. Here, as in Tobit, an angelic visitor facilitates the book’s happy ending. The earliest version of this work survived in a sixth century Syriac text. Latin, Armenian, and Slavonic translations also exist, but scholars agree it was originally written in Greek. Yet, the history of scholarship on Joseph and Aseneth illustrates some of the pitfalls of studying ancient “Jewish” literature: like many other such texts, it was transmitted only by Christians, has conflicting textual forms, and has not survived in its original language. While Joseph and Aseneth is generally considered the product of Hellenistic Jewish circles of the first or second century ce, there is no consensus on its provenance: Ross Kraemer (1998), for example, argues it is just as likely to be a Christian work dating from later antiquity.

4Ezra and Josephus: After the Fall of Jerusalem While studies of “Second Temple Judaism” should technically end with the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 ce, some literature from the generations immediately following this event should be considered in our corpus as well. The destruction of the Temple was a significant rupture, but responses to it drew deeply on existing traditions and literary practices (see Klawans, Chapter 12). 4Ezra, for example, is an apocalypse pseudepigraphically attributed to Ezra, who, in Ezra‐Nehemiah, leads the community of returnees from the Babylonian exile and re‐establishes the Jerusalem Temple (Henze and Stone 2013; Najman 2014). 4Ezra is set during the Babylonian Exile, after the destruction of the First Temple in 586 bce, but it


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clearly uses that narrative setting to reflect on the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 4Ezra reimagines its protagonist as a Job‐like figure, struggling to make sense of his people’s suffering and in the ability to move on (Najman 2014). In his final act, Ezra becomes a new Moses, revealing holy text anew: he drinks a cup of fire and dictates 24 public and 70 secret books to five scribes over the course of 40 days and 40 nights. These books are a guide to the people who remain on earth during the final days before the end of history. 4Ezra exemplifies how Jewish writers used earlier characters and events to make sense of their own present. 4Ezra does not interpret biblical Ezra, but gives the biblical character a new role, leading a community to recovery after destruction and creates a new narrative about surviving national trauma (Najman 2014). Moreover, for these texts the highest forms of divine communication are not Scripture but secret books, visions, speaking with angels, and ascent to heaven. While 4Ezra was likely composed originally in Hebrew, like many other contemporary texts, it survives only in Christian recensions and translations, with the most complete versions in Syriac and Latin. 2 Baruch, long regarded as closely related to 4Ezra, has a similar transmission history: the lost Semitic original was written in the first century ce and responds to the destruction of 70 with eschatological expectations, but is narratively set during the Babylonian Exile. The text survives in parts only in secondary and tertiary translations in Christian manuscripts, with the complete version found in a Syriac manuscript of the seventh century ce. Jewish responses to the destruction of the Second Temple may also be found among the writings of the New Testament. The book of Revelation, most likely written by a Jewish author, participates in the Jewish apocalyptic genre and shares many images and tropes not only with its precursor, Daniel, but also contemporary texts like 4Ezra. In Revelation, the vision of the New Jerusalem does not include a temple because God and the Lamb— Jesus Christ—are the Temple (Rev. 21: 22). In the Gospel of Matthew, the destruction of the Temple is a sign of the end times (Matt. 24); many now also agree that the Gospel of Mark was also written after 70 as a way of grappling with the destruction of the Temple (Kloppenborg 2005). Finally, one author responded to the destruction of Jerusalem by writing in a completely different genre with a wholly different relationship to the ruling empire. Flavius Josephus was a Jewish aristocrat and general in the Jewish revolt who later defected to the Romans, served as an imperial advisor, and spent the rest of his life as a Roman citizen writing historical treatises in Greek. His major works are The Jewish War, an account of the Jewish revolt, and the Jewish Antiquities, an account of Jewish history from patriarchal beginnings to his own days. There is no consensus on whether Josephus was writing primarily for his Roman patrons in order to explain and defend his own culture or whether his audience was other Jews (Mason 1998). Josephus is our most important source for Jewish history in the early Roman period. Some of the “common knowledge” about Judaism in fact derives from Josephus, including the division of society into Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes, which he calls “forms of philosophy” (J. W. 2.119). When the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, Josephus’s description of Essenes, an ascetic community who followed strict purity laws, became the framework for understanding the people who collected the Scrolls, although the name “Essene” is not found among the Scrolls and not all the features overlap. ce.

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Josephus’s work also illustrates how Jewish ancestral narratives were retold in the early Roman period. As he relates key biblical episodes, he relies also on a larger tradition of re‐telling embellished and harmonized versions of these episodes. For instance, Josephus’s version of the Cain and Abel story explains God’s capricious preference for Abel by adding that Cain was greedy and acquisitive (Ant. 1.52–59). One well‐known feature of Josephus’s oeuvre is his statement that the Jewish scriptures are found in a fixed number of books. He writes that, unlike the Greeks, whose writings are sprawling and contradictory, the Jewish scriptures come in 22 reliable volumes (Ag. 1.8). These include five books of Moses and 13 books of prophets that give a trustworthy account of Jewish history, and four other books of hymns and instruction. This appears to be the first indication of something like a canon of scripture, the idea that there is a particular and exclusive set of authoritative texts. The actual number of books in the rabbinic Tanakh is 24, but scholars have not managed to agree on exactly which books should be counted in Josephus’s list of 22. His statement is rhetorical: it argues that the Jews embody the values of Greek scholarship better than the Greeks themselves. The number 22 as a symbolic number precedes any decision of what specifically this list might contain. As 22 is the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet, it represents the ideas of completeness and coherence, and these qualitative values—rather than a specific fixed list—is what Josephus wants to communicate about the nature of Jewish scriptures (Mroczek 2016, pp. 161–167).

Conclusion By the late first century, the canon of Scripture begins to emerge as a concept, if not a specific list. It consolidates in the generations after the fall of the Temple, when the center of Jewish leadership shifts to a specific group of scholars—the rabbis. Many of the texts that had been important to earlier communities fall out of general use and new genres of literature emerge. However, the period between the fourth century bce and the second century ce is not merely a bridge between the Bible and the rabbinic corpus, or a prelude to Christianity and rabbinic Judaism. That linear, evolutionary scheme—the sense that this literature is “between” two canons or traditions—constructs an artificial corpus and seriously hinders our understanding of a rich era in Jewish culture, which is neither primarily derivative of the Bible nor merely points the way to either rabbinic Judaism or Christianity. One of the tasks of scholars today is to acknowledge that early Jewish texts were not written to answer our most pressing modern questions about the Bible, Judaism, and Christianity, but had their own priorities, and we must reimagine this vibrant, multilingual, multigenre literary world on its own terms.

REFERENCES Barton, John (1986). Oracles of God: Perceptions of Ancient Prophecy in Israel after the Exile. New York: Oxford University Press. Berthelot, Katell (2010). Jewish literature written in Greek. In: Early Judaism: A Comprehensive Overview (eds. John J. Collins and Daniel C. Harlow), 228–252. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.


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Bowley, James E. and Reeves, John C. (2003). Rethinking the concept of ‘Bible’: some theses and proposals. Henoch 25: 3–18. Boyarin, Daniel (2004). Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo‐Christianity. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press. Charles, R.H. (1913). The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament in English, 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Cohen, Shaye (1999). The Beginnings of Jewishness: Boundaries, Varieties, Uncertainties. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Collins, John J. (1998). The Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction to Jewish Apocalyptic Literature, 2e. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. Collins, John J. (2010). Early Judaism in modern scholarship. In: Early Judaism: A Comprehensive Overview (eds. John J. Collins and Daniel C. Harlow), 1–29. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. Feldman, Louis H., Kugel, James L., and Schiffman, Lawrence H. (eds.) (2013). Outside the Bible: Ancient Jewish Writings Related to Scripture, 3 vols. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press. Fraade, Steven D. (2007). Midrash and ancient Jewish Biblical interpretation. In: The Cambridge Companion to the Talmud and Rabbinic Literature (eds. Charlotte E. Fonrobert and Martin S. Jaffee), 99–120. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. García Martínez, Florentino (2012). Parabiblical literature from Qumran and the canonical process. Revue de Qumran 25: 525–556. Gruen, Erich S. (1998). Heritage and Hellenism: The Reinvention of Jewish Tradition. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Henze, Matthias, and Stone, Michael E. (eds.) (2013). 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch: Translations, Introductions, and Notes. Minneapolis, MI: Fortress. Holm, Tawny L. (2014). Of Courtiers and Kings: The Biblical Daniel Narratives and Ancient Story‐Collections. Grand Rapids, MI: Eisenbrauns. Kloppenborg, John S. (2005). Evocation Deorum and the date of Mark. Journal of Biblical Literature 124: 419–450. Kraemer, Ross S. (1998). When Aseneth Met Joseph: A Late Antique Tale of the Patriarch and His Egyptian Wife, Reconsidered. New York: Oxford University Press. Kraft, Robert A. (2007). Para‐mania: before, beside and beyond Biblical studies. Journal of Biblical Literature 126: 5–27. Kraft, Robert A. (2009). Exploring the Scripturesque: Jewish Texts and Their Christian Contexts. Leiden: Brill. Kugel, James L. (1997). The Bible as It Was. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Mason, Steve (1998). Should any wish to enquire further (Ant. 1.25): the aim and audience of Josephus’s Judean Antiquities/Life. In: Understanding Josephus: Seven Perspectives (ed.) Steve Mason), 64–103. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press. Mason, Steve (2007). Jews, Judaeans, Judaizing, Judaism: problems of categorization in ancient history. Journal for the Study of Judaism 38: 457–512. Mroczek, Eva (2016). The Literary Imagination in Jewish Antiquity. New York: Oxford University Press. Najman, Hindy (2003). Seconding Sinai: The Development of Mosaic Discourse in Second Temple Judaism. Leiden: Brill.

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Najman, Hindy (2014). Losing the Temple and Recovering the Future: An Analysis of 4 Ezra. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Nickelsburg, George G.W.E. (2005). Jewish Literature Between the Bible and the Mishnah: A Historical and Literary Introduction, 2e. Minneapolis, MI: Fortress. Reed, Annette Yoshiko (2005). Fallen Angels and the History of Judaism and Christianity: The Reception of Enochic Literature. New York: Cambridge University Press. Reed, Annette Yoshiko (2009). “The modern invention of ‘Old Testament Pseudepigrapha.’” Journal of Theological Studies 60: 403–436. Reeves, John C. (2010). Problematizing the Bible …. Then and Now. Jewish Quarterly Review 100: 139–152. Reinhartz, Adele, Mason, Steve, Schwartz, Daniel, et al. (2014). Jew and Judean: a forum on politics and historiography in the translation of ancient Texts. In: Marginalia Review of Books. http://marginalia.lareviewofbooks.org/jew‐judean‐forum/. Sanders, Seth L. (2016). From Adapa to Enoch: Scribal Culture and Religious Vision in Judea and Babylon. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. Stone, Michael E. (1978). The book of Enoch and Judaism in the third century BCE. Catholic Biblical Quarterly 40: 479–492. Stone, Michael E. (2011). Ancient Judaism: New Visions and Views. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. Stuckenbruck, Loren (2010). Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha. In: Early Judaism: A Comprehensive Overview (eds. John J. Collins and Daniel C. Harlow), 179–203. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. VanderKam, James C. (1998). Authoritative literature in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Dead Sea Discoveries 5: 396–401. Wills, Lawrence (2015). The Jewish Novel in the Ancient World. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock. Wright, Benjamin G. III (2008). Praise Israel for Wisdom and Instruction: Essays on Ben Sira and Wisdom, The Letter of Aristeas and the Septuagint. Leiden: Brill.


Rabbinic Literature Michal Bar‐Asher Siegal

Introduction The term rabbinic literature generally refers to the texts composed, edited, and transmitted by rabbinic circles between the late‐Second Temple period (the years leading up to 70 ce) and the Islamic conquest in the seventh century ce. This dating is neither precise nor clear‐cut, however. On the one hand, the earliest surviving compilation of rabbinic texts, the Mishnah, was edited around the turn of the third century ce. In other words, the editing of the Mishnah occurred at least a hundred years after the destruction of the Second Temple, though at least some of the traditions preserved in this anthology reportedly date back to the Second Temple period itself. On the other hand, we find in the rabbinic genre of midrash (pl. midrashim), compilations postdating the seventh century, though they include earlier material and possess characteristics that clearly identify them as rabbinic. In any case, the chronological framing of rabbinic literature should be taken as a general guideline and carefully checked in the case of each compilation and each individual passage. I shall begin this survey by outlining the parameters of rabbinic literature along a number of different axes, including chronology, geography, genre, and language. Rabbinic literature can be divided chronologically into two main periods: 1. Tannaitic literature (derived from the Aramaic term Tanna, “teacher,” from the verb “to teach/learn,” literally, “to repeat”): compositions edited around the early‐third century ce and containing literary traditions dating back to the Second Temple and early post‐Destruction period. These works include the Mishnah, Tosefta, and ­tannaitic midrashim, as well as possible tannaitic traditions (baraitot) found in later sources. A Companion to Late Ancient Jews and Judaism: Third Century bce to Seventh Century ce, First Edition. Edited by Naomi Koltun-Fromm and Gwynn Kessler. © 2020 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published 2020 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


Michal Bar‐Asher Siegal

2. Amoraic literature (derived from the Aramaic Amora, “teacher,” from the verb “to say”): works that include traditions originating in the third through fifth centuries ce, often presented alongside earlier, tannaitic material. The main amoraic compilations were edited between the fifth and seventh centuries, including the Palestinian and Babylonian Talmuds, and the early aggadic midrashim (see below on the distinction between halakhah and aggadah). Some of these amoraic anthologies also include an additional layer of later material from the sixth and possibly seventh centuries. Most famously, the Babylonian Talmud contains the so‐called stammaic layer, anonymous additions that include everything from brief editorial comments on earlier material to entirely new passages interspersed among arranged tannaitic and amoraic traditions. The anthologies that comprise rabbinic literature are composed of several distinct stages. At the heart of rabbinic works are traditions transmitted in the name of specific rabbis. These sayings were presumably composed by the named rabbi or by a later composer attributing this tradition to an earlier sage. They were studied and preserved and later redacted as part of an anthology of rabbinic sayings. This redacted compilation of rabbinic traditions then went through several additional stages of redaction, resulting eventually in the various rabbinic compilations that survive today. During and after the creation of these rabbinic works, the traditions were transmitted and preserved by later rabbis and their students. While the oral nature of rabbinic literature is evident in almost every aspect of the texts, the actual method of the transmission was already being debated by medieval commentators. Rashi, for example, held that the texts were transmitted almost exclusively through oral recitation and memorization, while others, such as Maimonides, thought the traditions were transmitted in writing. A few texts are mentioned that were already written in rabbinic times, for example, the Second Temple Megillat Ta’anit with its post‐talmudic scholion, while others such as some legal midrashim, were proven to have existed in written form (Naeh 1997). The oldest inscription of rabbinic texts is the mosaic at the Rehov synagogue, a close parallel of a Palestinian Talmud passage dealing with the Sabbath year and tithing, which dates to the first half of the seventh century (Sussmann 1973–1974). The oldest geniza fragments of rabbinic texts are dated to the late seventh or eighth ­century, while complete manuscripts of rabbinic texts are only found in later medieval manuscripts and, later still, in print (Strack and Stemberger 1992, pp. 31–37). At this stage, the texts continued to evolve as changes of a different nature took place: scribal errors and corrections, printing errors, and censorship. The rabbinic corpus can also be divided along geographical lines. There is general agreement among scholars that all of the tannaitic literature originated in Palestine. Amoraic literature, however, was created in two different geographical regions: Palestine and Babylonia. The Palestinian and Babylonian Talmuds each contain literary traditions stemming from both of these two geographic Jewish community centers. However, the Palestinian Talmud was redacted in the land of Israel, as were the early aggadic midrashim, while the Babylonian Talmud was redacted in Babylonia, in the narrow region between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, in modern‐day Iraq. The two Jewish communities that produced these texts lived under very different historical circumstances. In the West, the land of Israel was a province of the Roman Empire,

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while in the East, Jewish Babylonia was a part of the Sasanian Persian Empire. Moreover, in the course of the fourth century ce, the Roman Empire legalized Christianity and eventually made it the state religion of the Roman Empire. In the Persian Empire, Zoroastrianism was the Persian national religion, while Christianity remained a minority religion alongside Judaism. These differing historical circumstances impacted the nature of the Palestinian and Babylonian rabbinic compilations in both form and content. For example, the language of the tannaitic compilations is largely mishnaic Hebrew, alongside some Aramaic and scattered words in other languages, such as Greek. Amoraic literature, however, is written mostly in two dialects of Aramaic (Jewish‐Palestinian Aramaic and Jewish‐Babylonian Aramaic) as well as Hebrew, though amoraic collections also include words in other languages, including Greek and Persian (Sperber 2006; Breuer 2006; Bar‐Asher 2006). In terms of content, for example, studies suggest certain Persian literary contacts with Babylonian talmudic texts (Secunda 2014), while others have noted connections between the Palestinian and Greco‐ Roman culture (Lieberman 1942) (for more on language see Yadin‐Israel, Chapter 4). Genre is another key characteristic that distinguishes groups of rabbinic works. The Mishnah and Tosefta are thematic compilations. They are, in most cases, collections of halakhic (= legal) sayings organized around themes such as the Sabbath, various holidays, marriage, torts, and other key issues in Jewish law. Both of the later two Talmuds were redacted according to the organizational and thematic structure covering most of the Mishnah. In contrast, both tannaitic and amoraic midrashim (derived from the Hebrew darash, “to seek,” which is the verb used to describe rabbinic exegetical and homiletical practice) follow the order of the biblical books and verses. One result of this distinction is that the laws discussed in the midrashic compilations are presented in connection with their supposedly biblical source whereas the thematic compilations often offer legal rulings as self‐contained statements. The organization by theme allows for more straightforward access to specific rules and sometimes allows for the treatment of a much broader range of rules than what is derived directly from biblical verses. For example, the laws of the Sabbath are discussed in very few verses in the Pentateuch and primarily in very general terms (Tigay 1985; Exod. 20: 8–11, 23: 12, and 31: 12–17; Lev. 23: 3; and Deut. 5: 12–15). Only a handful of specific rules are mentioned: the prohibition of gathering food, plowing and reaping, kindling a fire, and chopping wood (Exod. 16: 29–30, 34: 21, 35: 3; Num. 15: 32–36); and the positive commandments to give rest to one’s servants and animals (Exod. 20: 10, 23: 12; Deut. 5: 14). As a result, the tannaitic midrashim contain few passages on the topic of Sabbath observance, and only in connection with these specific verses. However, tractate Shabbat in the Mishnah is quite large, consisting of 24 chapters mostly comprising self‐contained Sabbath laws, which are expanded upon greatly in the Tosefta and later in both Talmuds. While rabbinic literature can indeed be divided based on these and other criteria, there are also many characteristics common to the entire corpus: 1. Traditions are preserved either anonymously (stam) or attributed to a named sage. The names of specific sages mostly appear throughout all of rabbinic literature, and we often encounter the same rabbis across different compilations, such as the tannaim R. Akiva and R. Yose; the amoraim R. Abbahu and Rava; and many others.


Michal Bar‐Asher Siegal

2. Compilations preserve traditions in a series of (generally) chronological layers. One can often read a topical discussion starting with an early sage and ending with comments on the same topic from a sage who lived many years or even centuries after the first. 3. Rabbinic literature is often laconic. Especially in tannaitic compilations, but even in later talmudic texts, passages of laws and narratives are composed with minimal use of adverbs, adjectives, and background detail. 4. Rabbinic texts do not have an authoritative author and we rarely know the identity of the editor. Nonetheless, the chain of transmission of rabbinic traditions is taken quite seriously. The texts are full of named sayings and seemingly meticulous attention to the verification of the source of each individual statement. We often find a string of names, reading “Rabbi X said that Rabbi Y said in the name of Rabbi Z,” etc. 5. Earlier traditions stand at the center of later discussions and are treated with varying degrees of authority, depending on their provenance. Often later amoraic and post‐ amoraic sources will attempt to reconcile contradictory traditions in creative ways in order to preserve the authority of both. 6. Biblical verses are authoritative and central to all of rabbinic literature. They are regularly quoted, even in non‐midrashic literature. 7. Rabbinic texts incorporate, to various degrees, both halakhah (legalistic sayings; see Safrai 1987) and aggadah (non‐legal material). The latter category can include everything from biblical exegesis to stories about sages’ lives to scientific investigations, and much more. Often the distinction between halakhah and aggadah is blurred and the two intertwine to create a fuller treatment of the topic at hand. 8. Rabbinic narratives are impressive in their audacious literary treatment of major themes, such as rabbinic authority and hierarchy; the relationship between humanity and God; God’s attributes; and so on. The rabbis often treat sensitive issues with directness and openness in traditions that have, perhaps surprisingly, been preserved in rabbinic anthologies and transmitted over centuries. There is often a sense of self‐ reflection and even irony in the treatment of certain issues. When a rabbi, Ben Azzai, states that whoever avoids having children is a murderer and “decreases the image of God” (t. Yebam. 8: 7), it is indeed a severe warning. However, the rabbis’ response to Ben Azzai which follows, reveals that he himself did not have children! He responds, “What can I do? My soul longs for the Torah.” Here, as in other cases, rabbinic literature preserves both a saying and a self‐critical look at the underlying attitude expressed.

Mishnah The earliest surviving rabbinic compilation is the Mishnah. The word mishnah derives from a Hebrew root meaning literally “to repeat” (a cognate of the Aramaic root of Tanna, see above). This verb also means “to learn” in mishnaic Hebrew, since oral traditions were studied and memorized through repetition. The editing of the Mishnah is attributed to Rabbi Judah the Patriarch (or the Prince), often known simply as “Rabbi,” in the beginning of the third century ce.

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Rabbi probably relied on earlier compilations of rabbinic legal traditions in the creation of his Mishnah, though these do not survive independently. The Mishnah itself refers numerous times to a “first (or earlier) Mishnah” (mishnah rishonah). For example, after Mishnah Sanhedrin 3: 4 lists the various people who are disqualified from serving as witnesses or judges (among them: “a suitor’s father, brother, father’s brother, etc.”) the text records the comment of R. Yose: “Such was the Mishnah of R. Akiva, but the first Mishnah also included a suitor’s uncle, first cousin, and all who are qualified to be his heirs.”1 The Mishnah is organized thematically and consists of six parts known as “orders” (sing. seder; pl. sedarim): 1. Zera’im (“seeds”): laws dealing primarily with agriculture. 2. Mo’ed (“festivals”): laws dealing with festivals and special days such as Shabbat. 3. Nashim (“women”): laws dealing with women, including the laws of marriage and divorce. 4. Neziqin (“damages”): tort law. 5. Qodashim (“holy things”): laws dealing with sacrifices and temple offerings. 6. Teharot (“purities”): laws dealing with purity and impurity. Each order is divided into tractates (sing. masekhet; pl. masekhtot), and each tractate into chapters (sing. pereq; pl. peraqim) and then individual mishnayot (sing. mishnah). We have a number of textual witnesses to the Mishnah, prior to its printing, including several complete or nearly complete manuscripts (as early as the eleventh and twelfth century) and numerous earlier fragments preserving smaller sections of the text. The mishnayot that comprise the Mishnah can be divided, generally speaking, into three categories: 1. Self‐contained laws. For example, Mishnah Ketubot 12: 3 reads: “If a widow says, ‘I do not wish to leave my husband’s house,’ the heirs cannot say to her, ‘Go to your father’s house, and we will maintain you [there].’ They must maintain her in her husband’s house and provide her a dwelling befitting her condition.” 2. Laws connected to a biblical source. For example, Numbers 5: 11–31 describes the “bitter water ceremony,” a trial by ordeal prescribed for a woman suspected of ­adultery. Mishnah Sotah 1: 6 determines that “all women are allowed to behold her, for it is written, ‘That all women may be taught not to act in accordance with your lewdness’ (Ezek. 23: 48).” 3. Aggadic passages that include non‐legal statements. These include: commentaries on biblical stories, for example Mishnah Sotah 1: 8, “Samson went after [the desire of] his eyes—therefore the Philistines put out his eyes, as it is written: ‘And the Philistines took hold of him and put out his eyes’ (Judg. 16: 21);” narratives about sages, such as the story of Honi the Circle‐Maker, who was asked to pray for rain in a time of drought and succeeded (m. Ta‘an. 3: 8); or even meta‐reflections about the nature of the rabbinic project, such as Mishnah ‘Eduyot 1: 4, “And why do they record the opinions of Shammai and Hillel when these do not prevail? To teach the generations that come after that none should persist in his opinion, for even ‘the Fathers of the World’ did not persist in their opinion [after another’s argument was accepted as law].”


Michal Bar‐Asher Siegal

The Mishnah became the authoritative source of tannaitic teachings for later generations, due in large part to the stature of its editor and compiler, Rabbi Judah the Patriarch. Rabbi was a leader in the Palestinian community and its representative to the Roman imperial authorities, and sources depict him as coming from an affluent and influential family. This standing must have played a large part in the acceptance of the Mishnah as the authoritative legal text upon which both Talmuds were later built. Even so, the Mishnah contains a few passages that must have been added after the time of Rabbi, including a tradition mentioning Rabbi’s death (m. Sotah 9: 15). The Mishnah does not include all tannaitic material, for other early collections, such as the Tosefta and the tannaitic midrashim, preserve a great many other tannaitic statements and traditions that were not included in the Mishnah. While the Mishnah includes many disagreements and opposing views, it nonetheless preserves a greater proportion of teachings originating from the school of Hillel and the followers of R. Akiva. The Mishnah’s original purpose is debated by scholars. Some argue that it is simply a collection of rabbinic teachings; others that it is a teaching manual; and still others see it as an authoritative law code (Strack and Stemberger 1992, pp. 135–138). Later sources, especially the two Talmuds, treat the Mishnah as though it were a systematic law code. However, contradictions and repetitions within the Mishnah often complicate this approach and compel the amoraic sources to offer corrections or forced arguments in an attempt to create a unified system. The oral character of the Mishnah is evident from its style, which is often designed to facilitate oral recitation through the use of parallelism and other mnemonic devices. For example, when Mishnah Shabbat 7: 2 enumerates the 39 activities prohibited on the Sabbath, the long list is preceded by a header, “The primary labors are forty less one,” which is then repeated at the conclusion of this passage. The list is also divided according to the type of activity and then arranged based on the sequence of actions. For example, prohibited activities related to bread‐making are listed in the order they would be performed: planting, plowing, reaping, gathering, threshing, winnowing, sorting, grinding, sifting, kneading, and baking. These and other stylistic elements aid in the memorization of long lists of details most likely to be transmitted orally.

Tosefta The Tosefta (from the Aramaic for “addition”) is another thematic compilation of tannaitic literary traditions, four times larger than the Mishnah. The Tosefta as it stands before us is framed as a supplement to the Mishnah; it is organized according to the same six orders and is dependent on its rhetoric and argumentation. The Tosefta often adds to and comments on the Mishnah in the following ways: 1. It quotes the Mishnah verbatim. 2. It complements and adds to the Mishnah’s content without explicitly quoting it. 3. It contains independent statements that do not rely on the Mishnah. For example, Mishnah Pesahim 10:1 describes meal preparations for the Passover seder:

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On the eve of Passover, from about the time of the Evening Offering, a man must eat nothing until nightfall. Even the poorest in Israel must not eat unless he reclines. They must not give them less than four cups of wine to drink, even if it is from the [charity] plate.

The parallel Tosefta reads: On the eve of Passover, from about the time of the Evening Offering, a man must eat nothing until nightfall. Even the poorest in Israel must not eat unless he reclines. They must not give them less than four cups of wine to drink, which contain at least a revi’it [a specific measure], whether it is mixed or unmixed, old or new. R. Judah says: So long as it has the taste and appearance of wine.2

The Tosefta here quotes the Mishnah and adds its own legal discussion of the quantity and quality of the wine that must be drunk at the Passover seder. The Tosefta then adds the following independent statement, which is neither found in the Mishnah nor dependent on the Mishnah: A person is commanded to make his children and the members of his household happy on the pilgrimage festivals. How [should he make them happy]? He makes them happy with wine! As it is written, “And wine will gladden a man’s heart, etc.” (Ps. 104: 15). R. Judah says: Women as appropriate for them and minors as appropriate for them.

While its redaction appears to be later than that of the Mishnah (some scholars disagree even on this point; see Hauptman 2005), the Tosefta also preserves earlier traditions on occasion (even in this Pesahim passage; see Friedman 2002). Scholarship has thus emphasized the importance of analyzing every Mishnah–Tosefta parallel on its own in order to determine the relationship between the traditions preserved in each corpus.

Midrash Midrash is a diverse genre within rabbinic literature, comprising compilations edited as early as the third century ce and as late as the thirteenth century. What these works all share is a central focus on the exegesis of biblical verses. Midrash addresses difficulties in the biblical text and attempts to clarify ambiguous passages. Because the Bible is laconic in style, often omits details, and rarely describes the emotions, motivations, or thoughts of its protagonists, midrashic texts seek to fill in these biblical lacuna. Thus, for example, the midrashic texts offer reasons for Cain and Abel’s disagreement or set forth interpretations that attempt to reconcile the two apparently distinct creation stories in the first chapters of Genesis. Midrash also attempts to adapt biblical verses to changing social realities. For example, Sifre Deuteronomy 218 uses exegetical moves to limit the circumstances in which the laws of the rebellious son apply (Deut. 21: 18–21), making it nearly impossible for parents to ask that their gluttonous son be killed. These sorts of midrashic readings allowed this rabbinic genre to develop as a site of engagement with major theological issues. At times, midrashic works contain far‐reaching statements about the nature of God, God’s relationship with the Jewish people, and other


Michal Bar‐Asher Siegal

thorny religious questions. There is scholarly debate about the sources of different midrashim, with theories ranging from popular synagogue sermons to textual study among the sages in the elite circles of the study house.

Tannaitic Midrash The tannaitic midrashim are a part of the broader corpus of tannaitic literature that includes the Mishnah and Tosefta. These compilations are also known as halakhic or legal midrashim, as they are mostly centered on the legal portions of the Pentateuch. For example, there is no surviving tannaitic midrash on the book of Genesis, a book with very few laws, and the Mekhilta de Rabbi Ishmael on Exodus starts only in Chapter 12, the first substantive legal passage in Exodus. However, while these midrashim do indeed focus primarily on legal issues, there are nonetheless numerous passages of a non‐legal, aggadic nature. The tannaitic midrashim belong to one of two rabbinic schools: the school of Rabbi Ishmael and the school of Rabbi Akiva. The school of R. Akiva was the larger of the two and the more influential. Indeed, the school of R. Akiva became the central tradition of midrashic legal exegesis in the generations that followed. Not all of the compilations of midrashic readings produced by these two schools were recorded in manuscripts and later printed. Recently, scholars have attempted to reconstruct the missing midrashim based on manuscript fragments and later medieval quotations. The surviving midrashic collections include, from the school of R. Ishmael: Mekhilta de Rabbi Ishmael on Exodus (mekhilta is Aramaic for “rule,” in the sense of a hermeneutical rule) and Sifre (Aramaic for “books”) on Numbers; we also have parts of the Mekhilta on Deuteronomy (reconstructed in Hoffman’s Midrash Tannaim). From the school of R. Akiva, we have: Sifra (Aramaic for “book”) on Leviticus and Sifre Deuteronomy; we also have parts of the Mekhilta de Rabbi Shimon bar Yoḥai on Exodus (reconstructed by Epstein and Melamed 1979), Sifre Zuta (Aramaic for “the small books”) on Numbers (in Horowitz’s edition), and Sifre Zuta on Deuteronomy (in Kahana’s edition). The following table (Table 6.1) is an outline of the midrashim by school and biblical book (* indicates a reconstructed midrash): Table 6.1  Tannaitic Midrashic Literature by School. Biblical book:

School of R. Ishmael:

School of R. Akiva:


Mekhilta de Rabbi Ishmael

*Mekhilta de Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai




Sifre Numbers

*Sifre Zuta Numbers


*Mekhilta Deuteronomy

Sifre Deuteronomy *Sifre Zuta Deuteronomy

Modern scholarship established the origins of these tannaitic midrashim from two separate midrashic schools based on several factors (Kahana 2006): 1. Names of sages. While the sages who appear in the tannaitic midrashim as a whole are the same sages known from the Mishnah and Tosefta, a handful of sages are more

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dominant in certain midrashim. For example, we find in the Ishmaelian midrashim names of prominent sages who do not appear at all in the Mishnah, such as R. Yoshiya and R. Natan, while the sages in the Akivan midrashim are closer to the names appearing in the Mishnah. 2. Midrashic hermeneutics. Certain hermeneutic tools are used more often in the midrashim of one school or the other. For example, the school of R. Ishmael relies on fixed hermeneutic rules, such as the proper way to compare parallel verses in order to learn by analogy from one legal case to another, while the school of R. Akiva uses more elaborate biblical exegesis, sometimes based on a single letter. 3. Terminology. Each school’s midrashim uses unique terms for similar notions. For example, when a tannaitic midrash offers an explanation only to reject it later on, Ishmaelian texts use the term, “Do I hear (shome’a ani)…?,” while Akivan midrashim texts use the term, “Could it be (yakhol)…?” 4. Anonymous sayings. In numerous places, when a tannaitic midrash offers a saying anonymously, later sources such as the two Talmuds will quote the saying in the name of R. Akiva or R. Ishmael. The fact that these early rabbinic works still preserve these two separate midrashic t­ raditions—which is not the case in later, amoraic compilations—provides a unique opportunity to compare rabbinic attitudes on many legal and non‐legal issues. Ultimately, this is a window into the nuance and complexity of rabbinic thought. As an example, Sifre Deuteronomy 157 relates the following story (which also appears in m. Sotah 7: 8) about King Agrippa, a descendant of Herod the Great and thus partly of Idumean origin: Whenever Agrippa came to this verse [“You may not set a stranger over you (i.e. as king) who is not your brother” (Deut. 17: 15)], he wept, and all the people of Israel said to him, “Fear not, Agrippa, you are our brother, you are our brother.”

However, the parallel midrash from the school of R. Ishmael, Mekhilta Deuteronomy (in Mid. Tan. 17: 15) preserves the following version of this story: When he came to this verse, “You may not set a stranger over you” (Deut. 17: 15), he wept. [The sages] said to him, “Fear not, Agrippa, you are our brother, our brother!” At that time our fathers’ verdict was sealed to be exiled, since they ingratiated themselves [to Agrippa].3

Interestingly, a view similar to the one expressed in this anonymous saying in the Mekhilta is attributed to R. Natan, the uniquely Ishmaelian scholar, in a later talmudic source (b. Sotah 41b). This comparison between the two midrashim reveals that some circles were critical of this mishnaic story amid tensions involving the appeasement of royal magistrates.

Aggadic Midrashim The early aggadic midrashim, such as Genesis Rabbah, Leviticus Rabbah, and Lamentations Rabbah, were edited in the amoraic period (these books are part of a larger collection known as the Midrash Rabbah; see Freedman and Simon 1983). As opposed to the


Michal Bar‐Asher Siegal

t­annaitic midrashim, which focus on the legal sections of the Pentateuch, the aggadic midrashim focus primarily on non‐legal passages. Genesis Rabbah was redacted in the fifth century ce in Palestine. It is, for the most part, a verse‐by‐verse exegesis of the book of Genesis, offering simple explanations of words and sentences alongside longer aggadic passages. For example, Genesis Rabbah grapples with the meaning of the use in Genesis 1: 26 of a plural form to describe God’s decision to create man: “And God said: Let us make humankind (lit. adam = human).” The midrash (Gen. Rab. 8) asks: “With whom did God take counsel?” It provides a number of answers, ranging from the elements to God’s own heart to the angels. This midrash is also in conversation with contemporary claims that rely on the use of the plural here to argue that more than one heavenly being was present at the creation of Adam, particularly Christian claims (see, for example, Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 62). The midrash also deals with contradictions between the biblical sources. Famously, Genesis 1: 27 records the creation of male and female humans together, while Genesis 2: 18–24 puts the creation of man first, followed by the animals, and finally woman. Genesis Rabbah 8 synthesizes the two sources and from this contradiction describes a two‐stage creation: R. Jeremiah b. Eleazar said: When the Holy One, blessed be He, created Adam, He created him as androgynous, for it is said, “Male and female He created them… and He called their name Adam” (Gen. 5: 2). R. Samuel b. Naḥman said: When God created Adam, He created him double‐faced, then He split him and made him of two backs, one back on this side and one back on the other side.4

In this way, Genesis Rabbah reads Genesis 1 as describing the creation of a human being containing both man and woman in some fashion, whereas Genesis 2 describes the separation of woman as an individual creature from the man. Genesis Rabbah is divided into sections called parashiyot. These sections often begin with a proem called a petiḥta (pl. petiḥtot). The proem will start by quoting a verse from a biblical book, usually from the Writings (the third section of the Hebrew Bible) and sometimes the Prophets, and end with a local verse, in this case from Genesis. For example, when Genesis Rabbah 19: 1 discusses the verse, “Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made” (Gen. 3: 1), the midrash begins by quoting Ecclesiastes 1: 18, “For in much wisdom is much anger, and whoever increases in knowledge increases in sorrow.” The midrash comments: “When a person increases his wisdom, he increases anger against himself, and when he increases his knowledge, he adds to his sorrow.” The midrash goes on to offer several additional sayings which address the theme of the greater the man, the greater his downfall. Finally, the passage returns to the local verse, as follows, “It was taught in the name of R. Meir: According to the greatness of the serpent, so was his downfall; because he was ‘more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made.’” Petiḥtot are found in other midrashim as well, such as Lamentation Rabbah, another of the early midrashim that appears to have been redacted in fifth century ce Palestine. The legal nature of much of Leviticus makes the verse‐by‐verse structure of Genesis Rabbah a poor fit for an aggadic midrash of this book. Leviticus Rabbah instead offers

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37 homilies, each beginning with at least one petiḥta. The petiḥtot of Leviticus Rabbah are arranged according to the Palestinian Torah reading cycle (which is designed to complete all five books of the Torah twice every seven years) with a few later additions. The homilies focus on the first verses of each biblical unit, on the connections between close biblical units, and on larger thematic issues, rather than individual verses. We find homilies on the soul (Lev. Rab. 4); the burnt offering (7); peace (9); and other broad ideas. A number of homilies contain folkloristic literary traditions. For example, Leviticus Rabbah 12 comments on Leviticus 10: 8–9: Then the Lord said to Aaron, “You and your sons are not to drink wine or other fermented drink whenever you go into the tent of meeting, or you will die.”

The midrash discusses the ill effect of wine‐drinking and brings a group of stories about inebriated people, some of them clearly meant to be humorous: R. Aha said: There is a story of a man who would sell his household goods—even the beams of his house—and drink wine with the proceeds. His sons said, “Our father will leave nothing for us after his death! What shall we do with him? We shall go, ply him with drink, make him drunk, take him out, say he is dead, and place him in his resting place.” And so they did: they plied him with drink, made him drunk, took him out, and placed him in a cemetery. Wine merchants passed the gate of the cemetery, and, hearing that a seizure [of goods] for public service was to take place in the province, they said, “We shall leave our barrels in this cemetery and leave.” And so they did: they left their loads inside the cemetery and went to witness the uproar in the province. And they saw the man there and thought he was dead. The man woke up from his sleep and, seeing a skin bottle above his head, untied it, put it in his mouth. and began drinking and singing. Three days later, his sons said, “Should we not go to see what father is doing and whether he is dead or alive?” They went and found him with the wine‐skin in his mouth, sitting and drinking. They said, “Even here your Creator has not forsaken you. Seeing that He has given you [wine], we do not know what we should do to you.” They made an arrangement amongst themselves that the sons should each take turns providing him with drink each day.

In addition to the works surveyed above, rabbinic literature includes a number of other aggadic midrashim, including Pirke de R. Eliezer and Tanhuma‐Yelamdenu. However, these and others were redacted well after the “rabbinic period,” and we will not treat them in depth here, though they often contain earlier traditions and bear rabbinic characteristics.

Talmuds The two Talmuds (derived from the Hebrew lamad, “to learn”): the Palestinian Talmud (also called the Yerushalmi) and the Babylonian Talmud (often referred to as the Bavli), are composed of the statements of Amoraim living in the third through fifth centuries ce and the anonymous editors who followed them. Both Talmuds are arranged as an interpretation of the text of the Mishnah, although each given mishnah is, in most cases, just a starting point for a much larger, encyclopedic


Michal Bar‐Asher Siegal

collection of rabbinic traditions connected associatively to the topic at hand. Furthermore, the two Talmuds only cover four of the six orders of the Mishnah: the Palestinian Talmud does not have the orders Qodashim (Holy Things) and Toharot (Purities), while the Babylonian Talmud does not have Zera’im and Teharot (with the exception of standalone tractates such as Berakhot and Niddah in the Babylonian Talmud, and chapters missing in a few of the existing tractates in the Palestinian Talmud). The absence of these mishnaic orders does not mean that they were not studied by the Amoraim. Rabbinic discussions of mishnayot from these orders are found throughout other parts of both Talmuds. Scholarly theories suggest that the topic of agriculture (the main focus of Zera’im) was not relevant outside the land of Israel and may therefore have been less important to the Babylonian sages; similarly, the laws of purity in Toharot may have been less meaningful for post‐ destruction Jewish communities in Palestine and Babylonian without access to the Temple cult (Strack and Stemberger 1992, pp. 166–168). The two Talmuds show great similarities in their overall sequence and construction, and they often share similar content at the level of the traditions themselves. Traditions clearly traveled between the two Jewish geographical centers and each of the Talmuds contains quotes from named sages from both Palestine and Babylonia. Indeed, in one of the ways for the traditions to travel, the Talmuds tell stories of the so‐called neḥute, ­rabbis who made the journey between the two centers and transmitted traditions from one to the other (on the relationship between the two Talmuds see, for example, Hayes 1997; Gray 2005).

Palestinian Talmud The Palestinian Talmud was redacted around the end of the fourth century ce. Though it is sometimes called the Jerusalem Talmud, the Talmud was actually redacted, at least in parts, in Tiberias, which we know through the use of the term “here” in various places to indicate Tiberias. Scholars have shown that the redaction of tractate Nezikin (which is traditionally divided into three parts, or “gates”) is significantly different in style from the rest of the Palestinian Talmud (Lieberman 1931, 1968). It uses shorter phrasing, differs considerably in vocabulary and the spelling of amoraic names, and mentions different rabbinic figures. Scholars have argued that this tractate, at least, may have been redacted by the school of Caesarea. There is only one complete, surviving manuscript of the Palestinian Talmud, MS Leiden Scaliger 3, copied in 1289, along with other partial manuscripts and genizah fragments. A passage closely related to Palestinian Talmud Demai 2: 1 was found in a seventh century synagogue inscription in Reḥov. This passage delineates the boundaries of the land of Israel for the purpose of the agricultural laws and sets forth a list of fruits and vegetables prohibited in the sabbatical year. The Palestinian Talmud is characterized by frequent verbatim repetitions of entire ­passages (Strack and Stemberger 1992, p. 169), terse or minimal language, enigmatic sayings, and a generally fragmentary character. When one compares parallel passages in the Palestinian and Babylonian Talmuds, the Babylonian passages are almost always longer and more stylistically and rhetorically developed. Scholars suggest that the later redaction date of the Babylonian Talmud offered more time for textual development and

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the ­ accretion of additional traditions. One salient narrative example is the story of R. Shimon bar Yoḥai. The Palestinian version of the story is found in Palestinian Talmud Shevi’it 9: 1: For thirteen years R. Shimon b. Yoḥai lived hidden in a cave of carobs of terumah [= priestly offerings]. [He stayed there] until his body became afflicted with [a skin disease that looked like] rust spots. At the end of thirteen years he said, “Shouldn’t I ]go out[ to see what has happened in the world?” He went out and sat at the mouth of the cave.

When compared to Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 33b, we find that the latter story contains an additional exposition explaining why R. Shimon felt the need to flee to the cave (a Roman decree) and his first attempt at hiding in a different place. Furthermore, in the Babylonian Talmud’s version R. Shimon hides in the cave along with his son: So they went and hid in a cave. A miracle occurred and a carob‐tree and a water well were created for them. They would [strip their garments and] sit up to their necks in sand. The whole day they studied; when it was time for prayers they robed, covered themselves, prayed, and then took off their garments again, so that they would not wear out. They lived twelve years in the cave. Elijah came and stood at the entrance to the cave and exclaimed, “Who will inform the son of Yoḥai that the emperor is dead and his decree annulled?” They emerged. Seeing a man ploughing and sowing, they exclaimed, “They forsake life eternal and engage in a temporal life!” Whatever they cast their eyes upon was immediately burned up. Thereupon, a Heavenly Echo came forth and cried out, “Have you emerged to destroy my world: Return to your cave!” So they returned and lived there twelve months, saying, “The punishment of the wicked in Gehenna is [limited to] twelve months.” A Heavenly Echo then came forth and said, “Go forth from your cave!”

The Babylonian Talmud’s version of this story is longer, more developed, and adds details missing in the Palestinian version: What did they do in the cave? What did they eat? What did they wear? What was their reaction to the world upon exiting the cave? And more. The changes expand the story, but also shift the story to focus on aspects such as the merits and drawbacks of solitary study and asceticism. The cave changes its function from a hiding place to a place of spiritual transformation and can be compared, for example, to analogous Christian stories about monks and their stay in caves (Bar‐Asher Siegal 2013, pp. 133–169) (see also Watts Belzer, Chapter 23). The difficulties presented by the Palestinian Talmud are made more challenging by the absence of a chain of transmission via medieval commentary. Because the Babylonian Talmud eventually achieved predominance in Jewish circles, the Palestinian Talmud was much less well studied than its eastern sibling. We do not have the advantage of commentaries dating back to a period relatively close to the text’s redaction, as we do for the Babylonian Talmud; the commentaries we do have almost all date from the sixteenth century and onward. As a result, it is much harder to understand the Palestinian Talmud. However, recent studies suggest that our knowledge about the Greco‐Roman world in which the Palestinian traditions were created, alongside contemporary Christian traditions, can significantly advance our understanding of the Palestinian Talmud.


Michal Bar‐Asher Siegal

Babylonian Talmud The Babylonian Talmud was redacted in Jewish Babylonia, among a community that traced its roots to the Judaean exile following the destruction of the First Temple in the sixth century bce. However, the pre‐talmudic Babylonian Jewish literary corpus is non‐ existent and the only evidence of the Babylonian Jewish community before this period is found in Hellenistic writings and the presence of Babylonian names in tannitic literature (such as “Nathan the Babylonian”). With the arrival of Rabbi Judah the Patriarch’s student, Rav, to Babylonia from Palestine in the early‐third century ce (traditionally dated to 219), we mark the beginning of the amoraic period in Babylonia. Scholars believe that the Babylonian Talmud was redacted sometime in the sixth or the seventh century ce. There are also extensive, post‐amoraic anonymous additions to the Babylonian Talmud that include entire passages often found at the beginning of tractates and individual chapters (for example, the famous opening of tractate Qiddushin); the addition of mnemonic devices (such as lists of words, each standing for sequential passages in a certain sections); and interpretive glosses. Some scholars even credit the so‐called “Stammaites” as the redactors of the entire Talmud (Rubenstein 2005). Of all of rabbinic literature, the Babylonian Talmud has undoubtedly had the most significant impact on the creation of medieval and modern Jewish practices, traditions, and scholastic syllabi. The struggle for halakhic hegemony between the Babylonian and Palestinian Talmuds was decidedly won by the former, and by the eleventh century the Babylonian Talmud was the dominant source for halakhic decision‐making throughout the Jewish world. The Talmud’s encyclopedic character is one of its central features. It includes a wealth of information connected to the rabbinic world of its time, ranging from medical advice, mathematics, astronomy, and astrology to dream interpretation, midrashic exegesis, aggadic narrative, and fantastical stories (Kottek 2006; Harari 2006; Shemesh 2006; Safrai 2006). The quantity and breadth of literary material in the Babylonian Talmud is no doubt connected to the longer time span of its redaction (which occurred approximately 150 years after the redaction of the Palestinian Talmud). Recent studies suggest that the non‐Jewish cultural background to the Talmud’s creation, particularly contemporary Zoroastrian and Christian texts, is crucial for our understanding of the Talmud itself and of the relationship between Jewish and non‐Jewish communities in the Persian Empire (Secunda 2014; Bar‐Asher Siegal 2013; 2019). For example, recent archeological finds from this period, such as incantation bowls, reveal a wealth of magical practices complementary to those mentioned in the Talmud; Zoroastrian texts about agricultural policy provide an illuminating background to certain Talmudic passages; and Christian monastic texts can explain the source of some Babylonian additions to earlier narratives, such as the above‐mentioned story of R. Shimon bar Yohai in the cave (see Mokhtarian, Chapter 9 and Ronis, Chapter 24). Five tractates are linguistically and grammatically distinct from the rest of the Babylonian Talmud: Nedarim, Nazir, Me’ilah, Keritot, and Tamid. Scholars debate whether the ­reason for these differences is chronological or geographical (related to the date and/or location of redaction; Strack and Stemberger 1992, pp. 195–197). The Babylonian Talmud continued to evolve even after its initial redaction. There were smaller additions

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during the Geonic period starting in the eighth century ce; changes due to medieval censorship (for example, the removal of the name Jesus from Talmudic stories); and corrections following medieval interpretations (particularly the influential works by eleventh century commentator Rashi and his students). Despite its paramount importance through the centuries, we have only one surviving manuscript of the entire Babylonian Talmud (MS Munich 95), which dates from the fourteenth century. This is complemented by numerous partial manuscripts and genizah fragments. The reasons for this are not clear, but the paucity of complete manuscripts must be due in part to the great financial expense of copying the full text of the Talmud and occasional attacks on the Talmud that resulted in the burning of books and manuscripts. One such attack was the famous Disputation of Paris in 1240, when the Talmud was literally put on trial after a Jewish apostate named Nicholas Donin submitted a list of charges to Pope Gregory IX. The trial took place in the court of Louis IX, King of France. The rabbis who provided the Talmud’s defense eventually lost and the Talmud was condemned to be burned in June 1242. The first complete printed edition of the Talmud was prepared in Venice by a non‐Jew named Daniel Bomberg from 1520 to 1523. This edition fixed the appearance of the printed talmudic page: each folio has two sides, marked “a” and “b,” and each tractate begins with a title page, followed by page two. The Talmud also has a vast related literature of interpretation, collected sayings, introductions, and responsa (an enormous body of literature comprising questions about talmudic law asked of sages from the Geonic period onward and their responses).

Conclusion This essay offered a survey of the rabbinic literature, outlined the corpora and genre of this literature, and introduced its main sources. This survey of the literature ends at the end of the talmudic period, while its impact was, and still is, considerable.

NOTES 1 2 3 4

All mishnaic translations according to Danby (1933). All Tosefta texts are author’s translations. Author’s translation. Midrashic and talmudic translations based on the Soncino editions, 1983 (Midrash), 1935–1952 (Talmud).

REFERENCES Bar‐Asher, Moshe (2006). Mishnaic Hebrew: an introductory survey. In: The Literature of the Sages, Second Part: Midrash and Targum Liturgy, Poetry, Mysticism Contracts, Inscriptions, Ancient Science and the Languages of Rabbinic Literature (eds. Shmuel


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Safrai, Zeev Safrai, Joshua Schwartz, and Peter J. Tomson), 567–596. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press. Bar‐Asher Siegal, Michal (2013). Early Christian Monastic Literature and the Babylonian Talmud. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Bar-Asher Siegal, Michal (2019). Jewish-Christian Dialogues on Scripture in Late Antiquity: Heretic Narratives of the Babylonian Talmud. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Breuer, Yohanan (2006). The Aramaic of the talmudic period. In: The Literature of the Sages, Second Part: Midrash and Targum Liturgy, Poetry, Mysticism Contracts, Inscriptions, Ancient Science and the Languages of Rabbinic Literature (eds. Shmuel Safrai, Zeev Safrai, Joshua Schwartz, and Peter J. Tomson), 597–626. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press. Danby, Herbert (1933). The Mishnah: Translated from the Hebrew with Introduction and Brief Explanatory Notes. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Epstein, I. (1935–1952). Babylonian Talmud in English. London and New York: Soncino Press. Epstein, J.N. and Melamed, E.Z. (1979). The Mekhilta of Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai. Jerusalem: Sumptibus Hillel Press. Freedman, H. and Simon, M. (eds.) (1983) Midrash Rabbah. London and New York: Soncino Press. Friedman, Shamma (2002). Tosefta Atiqta, Pesaḥ Rishon, Synoptic Parallels of Mishna and Tosefta Analyzed with a Methodological Introduction, Ramat Gan: Bar‐Ilan University Press. Gray, Alyssa (2005). A Talmud in Exile: The Influence of Yerushalmi Avodah Zarah on the Formation of Bavli Avodah Zarah. Providence, RI: Brown Judaic Studies. Harari, Yuval (2006). The sages and the occult. In: The Literature of the Sages, Second Part: Midrash and Targum, Liturgy, Poetry, Mysticism, Contracts, Inscriptions, Ancient Science and the Languages of Rabbinic Literature (eds. Shmuel Safrai, Zeev Safrai, Joshua Schwartz, and Peter J. Tomson), 521–566. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press. Hauptman, Judith (2005). Rereading the Mishnah: A New Approach to Ancient Jewish Texts. Mohr Siebeck. Hayes, Christine E. (1997). Between the Babylonian and Palestinian Talmuds: Accounting for Halakhic Difference in Selected Sugyot from Tractate Avodah Zarah. New York: Oxford University Press. Hoffmann, D.Z. (1908). Midrash Tannaim. Berlin: Ittskovsky. Horowitz, S. (1910). Sifre Zuta to Numbers. Breslau: Alkalay. Kahana, Menachem (2006). The halakhic midrashim. In: The Literature of the Sages, Second Part: Midrash and Targum, Liturgy, Poetry, Mysticism, Contracts, Inscriptions, Ancient Science and the Languages of Rabbinic Literature (eds. Shmuel Safrai, Zeev Safrai, Joshua Schwartz, and Peter J. Tomson), 3–105. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press. Kottek, Samuel S. (2006). Medical interest in ancient rabbinic literature. In: The Literature of the Sages, Second Part: Midrash and Targum, Liturgy, Poetry, Mysticism, Contracts, Inscriptions, Ancient Science and the Languages of Rabbinic Literature (eds. Shmuel Safrai, Zeev Safrai, Joshua Schwartz, and Peter J. Tomson), 485–496. Philadelphia: Fortress Press. Lieberman, Saul (1931). The Talmud of Caesarea (Hebr.). Tarbiz Supplement 2. Jerusalem.

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Lieberman, Saul (1942). Greek in Jewish Palestine: Studies in the Life and Manners of Jewish Palestine in the II–IV Centuries C.E. New York: The Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Lieberman, Saul (1968). Siphre Zutta (The Midrash of Lydda), vol. 2: The Talmud of Caesarea. New York. Naeh, Shlomo (1997). The structure and division of the midrash torat kohanim. I: scrolls (toward an early talmudic codicology). Tarbiz 66: 483–515. Rubenstein, Jeffrey L. (ed.) (2005). Creation and Composition: The Contribution of the Bavli Redactors (Stammaim) to the Aggada. Mohr‐Siebeck. Safrai, Shmuel (1987). Halakha. In: The Literature of the Sages, First Part: Oral Tora, Halakha, Mishna, Tosefta, Talmud, External Tractates (eds. Shmuel Safrai and Peter J. Tomson), 121–210. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press. Safrai, Zeev (2006). Geography and cosmography in talmudic literature. In: The Literature of the Sages, Second Part: Midrash and Targum, Liturgy, Poetry, Mysticism, Contracts, Inscriptions, Ancient Science and the Languages of Rabbinic Literature (eds. Shmuel Safrai, Zeev Safrai, Joshua Schwartz, and Peter J. Tomson), 497–508. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press. Secunda, Shai (2014). The Iranian Talmud: Reading the Bavli in Its Sasanian Context. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press. Shemesh, Abraham O. (2006). Biology in rabbinic literature: fact and folklore. In: The Literature of the Sages, Second Part: Midrash and Targum, Liturgy, Poetry, Mysticism, Contracts, Inscriptions, Ancient Science and the Languages of Rabbinic Literature (eds. Shmuel Safrai, Zeev Safrai, Joshua Schwartz, and Peter J. Tomson), 509–520. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press. Sperber, Daniel (2006). Rabbinic knowledge of Greek. In: The Literature of the Sages, Second Part: Midrash and Targum Liturgy, Poetry, Mysticism Contracts, Inscriptions, Ancient Science and the Languages of Rabbinic Literature (eds. Shmuel Safrai, Zeev Safrai, Joshua Schwartz, and Peter J. Tomson), 627–640. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press. Strack, H.L. and Stemberger, Günter (1992). Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash (trans. and ed. Markus Bockmuehl). Minneapolis: Fortress Press. Sussmann, Yaakov (1973–1974). A halakhic inscription from the Bedi‐Shean valley (Hebr.). Tarbiz 43: 88–158. Tigay, Jeffrey (1985). Shabbat in the Bible. In: Harper’s Bible Dictionary (eds. Paul J. Achtemeier and Roger S. Borass), 888–889. San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row.


Material Culture of the Second Temple Period (pre‐70 ce) Karen B. Stern

Introduction This chapter surveys the breadth and significance of archaeological evidence available for the investigation of Jewish populations of the Second Temple era (pre‐70 ce). Edited literary texts of the Hebrew Bible (including the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, and Zechariah), of the rabbis (Mishnah, Tosefta, and Talmuds), of the so‐called apocrypha and pseudepigrapha, as well as writings of Philo and Josephus, have traditionally occupied central positions in the study of Jewish history of that period. While these textual corpora remain crucial, their historiographical contributions are often complex and of limited scope (Schwartz 2002). Complementary attention to additional features of ancient architecture, household objects, and writings on papyrus, stone, wood, or plaster, collectively subsumed under the rubric of “material culture,” offers a distinct means to circumvent many of the limitations of literary sources. Scrutiny of these varied finds, usually uncovered through archaeological excavation, reveals otherwise unattested information about fundamental diversities in the devotional, domestic, and mortuary behaviors, as well as the social frameworks and identities, of Jews throughout the Mediterranean during periods of Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman hegemony. By defining associated terms, examining some of the methodological concerns inherent to their use, and offering an overview of selected data, this chapter highlights specific contributions of material culture toward the improved historiography of ancient Judaean and Jewish populations of the middle of the sixth century bce to the end of the first century ce.

A Companion to Late Ancient Jews and Judaism: Third Century bce to Seventh Century ce, First Edition. Edited by Naomi Koltun-Fromm and Gwynn Kessler. © 2020 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published 2020 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


Karen B. Stern

Terminology and Methodology Terms and methods governing the collection and interpretation of associated data necessarily inform research outcomes. Considerations of material culture, for instance, offer an improved means to illuminate broader studies of ancient religion and cultural practices, including those associated with ancient Judaism. Material culture is a capacious ­concept, which remains subject to rigorous, ongoing, and extensive scholarly debate (e.g., DeMarrais, 2004; see also Cynthia Baker, Chapter 8). Since the 1980s, the study of material culture has evolved into a distinctly cross‐disciplinary (if not post‐disciplinary) field, with academic centers, scholarly journals, and handbooks devoted to its examination (e.g., Tilley et al. 2006; Hodder 1989). Drawing from methods deployed in media studies, architecture, geography, art history, archaeology, anthropology, cognitive science, technology, and art, the concept of “material culture” emphasizes the materiality (“thing‐ness”) of objects and built environments. Some studies of material culture and materiality draw from Marxian interpretations, which emphasize the labor power, social, and economic differentiation that yields the creation of associated structures and objects. The following consideration of material culture retains a different emphasis: it draws broader attention to how ancient actors (in this case, Judaeans and Jews) created, built, and used ancient objects, inscribed writings, and architectural spaces, how they manipulated them, and how they imbued them with real and symbolic value through associated cultural practices (Neis 2016). What are the advantages of considering these types of ancient objects, buildings, and writings collectively, in these particular ways? They promise broader insights into ancient human activity. Rather than looking to what edited literary sources “say” about the behaviors of ancient actors, for example, attention to ranges of materials optimally reveals information about what people actually “did” with them in antiquity. Of course, the matter is not so simple (Hodder 1989). The material record, especially for the investigation of the ancient world, remains difficult to interpret. Modes of discovery and preservation of archaeological data remain partial and interpretations of materials and their purported uses are perspectival. Nonetheless, many justifiably laud the advantages of considering features of material culture for the discussion of ancient history, because, through their design, wear, and spatiality, they embed evidence for ancient behaviors (cf. Gell 1998), which can otherwise elude literary report or representation (Tilley et al. 2006, p. 197). Indeed, the following analyses of writings on papyrus, parchment, stone, or clay, designs of jars, lamps, bathing pools, and even toilet seats, let alone of mortuary complexes and modes of burial, demonstrate the advantages of using this broad category to synthesize diverse data for the improved interpretation of ancient Jewish life. The scholarly term, “Second Temple period,” serves as conventional shorthand to delimit the chronological scope of the era discussed below, which extends from the initial rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple (c. 520–15 bce) after its destruction by the Neo‐ Babylonian Empire (c. 586/7 bce), to the subsequent edification of the Temple by King Herod (r. 37–4 bce), and its ultimate destruction by Rome in 70 ce. Regardless of its consistent use in scholarship, however, the term is vague and somewhat of a misnomer. From a political perspective, it remains imprecise: it encompasses periods of Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman rule and is conventionally applied to discussions of Judaeans and Jews, whether in Judaea or throughout other regions of the Mediterranean, Mesopotamia,

Material Culture of the Second Temple Period (pre‐70 ce)


and Arabia. Centrality of the Jerusalem Temple in this designation implicitly identifies Judaeans and Jews as the populations of historical focus (those for whom the presence or absence of the Temple would specifically matter), but simultaneously presupposes the physical, geospatial, and cosmic centrality of Jerusalem, and of the sacred Temple within it, in the lives of contemporaneous Jews from all regions (Schwartz 2002). The latter assumption remains problematic, however, as demonstrated below. Finally, as scholars increasingly argue, there appears to be no such thing as a true “Second” Temple. During the Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman periods, rather, ruling powers in Judaea serially redesigned and rebuilt portions of the Jerusalem Temple to yield one of multiple iterations. Sustained reliance on the term “Second Temple period,” below, as elsewhere, mostly relies on its efficiency in conjuring a chronological range, a people, and a cultic center, but the following evaluation bears the above caveats in mind. Despite maintenance of the term, the ensuing analysis looks beyond the world of the Temple and of Judaea to document the breadth of Jewish practices and beliefs evident in multiple regions of the ancient world, during periods of Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman hegemony. Origins of relevant data available for this discussion, in fact, derive from a broad geographic range, from Judaea to Mesopotamia, from North Africa to Arabia, while much of the archaeological evidence for Jews in Asia Minor and Italy derive from slightly later periods (see maps 1 to 4 at the front of this volume). Attention to the material culture Jews produced in these locations, moreover, illuminates the rampant diversities and complexities of the devotional practices, daily experiences, legal and social realities, and cultural or cultic tropisms of Jews throughout associated regions. It is worth noting, however, that the appearance (or lack thereof) of evidence for Jews in various locales need not directly correspond with the historical presence or size of ancient Jewish communities in those places or implicate the definitive absences of Jews living elsewhere. Distribution patterns of data, rather, may reflect accidents of preservation, which relate to the durability of associated materials and the climates and conditions in which they were deposited, buried, or fell into desuetude. Ongoing archaeological discoveries promise to amplify available demographic information in the years ahead (see Kraemer, Chapter 2). Evidence considered below particularly relates to populations of Judaean or Jewish association or extraction. Here, applications of different designations (Judaean as opposed to Jewish) correspond with shifting demographics, modes of cultural consciousness, as well as religious identification and language use, during a 600‐year span. I designate as “Judaean” evidence associated with individuals, who specifically identified their family origins and cult with the region, which Persians called Yehud and which Hellenistic dynasts designated as “Judaea.” I differently, if loosely, categorize as “Jewish,” populations who lived during periods of later Hellenistic and Roman rule, whose self‐understandings reflected distinct ethnic‐religious or cultic realities, which occasionally detached from direct geographic origin (Cohen 1998; Mason 2013; cf. Baker 2016). Distinctions in these designations respond to historical transformations, as well as to the challenges of translating terms of identification from ancient languages into English. Whenever p ­ ossible, in the following discussion, I include transliterations of original terms of self‐designation, including variants of yĕhûdî (Hebrew) and yĕhûdāy (Aramaic), or Ioudaios (Greek), so that an interested reader might draw his or her own conclusions about the best ways to


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interpret cognate terms. Debates concerning “who was a Jew” in antiquity remain v­ igorous and ongoing and researchers have recently revisited such points in scholarly and popular fora (Baker 2016; Reinhartz 2014; Reed 2014). Such difficulties and debates reveal how unstable are ethnic and geographic designations, whose ancient meanings varied according to precise historical, practical, and cultural contexts. Why associate any features of the material record with Judaean or Jewish populations at all? Reasons are various. Paired chronological and geographic factors sometimes link objects with Judaeans or Jews. For instance, both Judaeans and Jews dominated Jerusalem during the Hellenistic and early Roman periods; local buildings and objects from these eras remain implicitly connected to these populations. At other times, papyri and inscriptions explicitly incorporate terms (including Ioudaios) to identify their authors or subjects accordingly. At other times, writings on papyrus or stone allude or refer to biblical texts, list personal names used in the Hebrew Bible, or names which integrate elements of the Divine name (such as “Yah” or “El”); these features associate such inscriptions with Judaeans or Jews. In still other cases, objects are adorned with images, including the menorah (candelabrum) and lulav (cluster of four species). These symbols, in turn, generally index Jewish use and identification (Kraemer 1991), because they conjure features and activities associated with the Jerusalem Temple. While the latter types of symbols appear in non‐Temple contexts, in the first century or earlier (Aviam 2013) (including examples on a carved stone from Migdal and on walls of a private home in Jerusalem), they recur more frequently on objects used and produced after the destruction of the Temple in 70  ce (Fine 2014). The deployment of vocabulary that ascribes to families or an individual’s priestly status, or honorific titles associated with proseuchai or synagogues, also establish links between inscribed objects and those of Jewish lineage and association. Methods of associating objects with Judaeans or Jews thus vary according to their semantic contents, chronology of production, and geographic origins. Closer studies of associated texts and objects ultimately yield more refined and historically situated notions of Jewishness (or Judaean‐ness) and corresponding cultic, religious, and cultural designations. The organization of the following discussion is distinctive, partly because it prioritizes categories of behaviors attested in the material record over the discussion of some salient political and historical events. This means that the chapter sequentially addresses features of inscribed texts, objects, and buildings, which independently retain information about devotional activities and beliefs (including those evident inside cult spaces and synagogues and in sectarian contexts), activities performed inside households and in the courses of daily life (including features of diet, ritual purity, marriage, and family organization), practices and beliefs concerning death, burial and afterlife, and questions about social status, hierarchy, and the professional occupations of Jews in their surrounding societies. Advantages of this approach include its ability to foreground cultural variation and continuity, across and within geographic and chronological confines. While the ­following overview cannot be exhaustive and cannot do justice to the full range of information available for ancient Judaean and Jewish life before 70 ce, this specific approach intends to offer a broader introduction to the advantages of using material culture to investigate the activities, identities, and cultural tropisms associated with Judaeans and Jews of the Second Temple period.

Material Culture of the Second Temple Period (pre‐70 ce)


Devotional Activities Some of the earliest relevant evidence for the devotional practices of Judaean and Jewish populations derives from papyri and inscriptions found outside of Judaea. These offer significant insights into Judaean and Jewish devotional activities by either contradicting information in literary sources or by supplying information otherwise unattested in them. The material record from the Persian period (c. sixth through fourth centuries bce), from the outset, preserves rare data for the discussions of Judaean cultic and religious practices, which differ significantly from those prescribed in biblical texts. Examples from this period include contents of Aramaic letters, written in ink on papyrus, which document the existence of a Judaean temple on the Upper Egyptian Island of Elephantine, during roughly the same period as the earliest rebuilding phases of the second Jerusalem temple (Ezra 5: 1). We only know about this temple, as well as other features of Judaean life in Elephantine, because Egypt’s arid climate permitted the preservation of the papyri that recorded information about them in writing. No one knows exactly how Judaeans found themselves in this military garrison on an island of the Nile, which writers describe as the “fortress of Yeb,” but their letters attest the longevity of their community and of the temple they built and used there. Legal texts and personal correspondence document the local dedication of the Judaean temple to the God YHW, the same deity venerated in the Jerusalem Temple (as YHWH). Evidence exists for the Egyptian temple, however, only because of the Judaean garrison’s appeal to Persian authorities to help restore it. Two letters from the cache of Elephantine papyri appeal directly to the Persian governor to help rebuild the temple after local priests of the Egyptian god Khnum had destroyed it. One version of the letter details how “They [the priests] came to the fortress of Yeb with their weapons, they entered that temple, they destroyed it to the ground, and the pillars of stone which were there they broke.… When this was done we … fasted and prayed to Ya’u (YHW) the Lord of heaven….” (Porten 1996, pp. 125–126). While the letters do not clarify why Egyptian priests destroyed the temple, some scholars have postulated that their violence served as retribution for local Judaeans’ conduct of animal sacrifices, particularly through their ritual slaughter of rams. Such practices might have offended priests of the local god Khnum, who bore a ram’s head. This letter preserves details about the appearance of the former temple, recording its possession of wooden doors on bronze hinges, a roof constructed of cedar wood, and basins of gold and silver. Its verso describes the desire to reconstruct the building to reinstate offerings of incense, animals, and grain there. These elements, among others, echo biblical prescriptions for the construction of the Jerusalem Temple and attest to the conduct of activities of sacrifice, libation, and ablution in the Elephantine temple resembling those listed in biblical texts. Why is the information from these letters so striking? Because the deuteronomistic centralization ideology espoused in several biblical texts argues specifically against the worship of YHWH anywhere outside of Jerusalem. Texts from earlier periods offer various explanations for this ideology, including an understanding that Jerusalem was the only geographic place where YHWH physically dwelled (Isa. 66: 1) or that foreign lands and places were polluting and therefore unfit for the conduct of divine worship (Amos 7: 17; Hos. 9: 3; Olyan 2011, p. 207). Biblical texts redacted during the Persian period, in roughly the


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same periods that the Elephantine temple once stood, equally reinforce notions that Jerusalem and its temple constituted the only appropriate places for the worship of the ancestral YHWH (the locally specific personal name of the God of Israel). Only the papyrological record from Egypt demonstrates that some Judaeans, who dwelled outside of Jerusalem during periods of Persian domination, differently believed that it was appropriate to worship their ancestral God YHW(H), in a temple elsewhere and in Egypt. Biblical writings of the Persian period reflect a closer adherence to the deuteronomistic ideology and chronicle of how quickly the exiles, who returned to Jerusalem from Babylon in the sixth and fifth centuries bce, endeavored to rebuild the central cult of the Temple in Jerusalem (Ezra 5: 1–6: 15). Pronouncements within the Cyrus cylinder (c. 539 bce), which describe the Persian King Cyrus’ encouragement of Babylonian exiles to return to their homelands to re‐establish cults to their resident gods, affirms this perspective. Attention to Egyptian papyri, in combination with these documents, however, demonstrates how regionally variegated were Judaeans’ beliefs about the appropriate places to worship their ancestral god. Elaboration of the Jerusalem Temple, however, continued during subsequent periods of Hellenistic and Roman rule in Judaea. Members of the Jewish Hasmonean dynasty and King Herod sequentially invested in reconstructing the Temple during the centuries that followed (1 Macc.; Jos. J. W. 5.224; cf. b. B. Bat. 4a). Herod’s grand building program, initiated in the first century bce, encompassed all of surrounding Jerusalem (Netzer 2008) and included the elaboration and transformation of multiple Hasmonean fortress/palace complexes (among them, those at Masada, Herodium, and Jericho), and the construction of a man‐made harbor and city in Caesarea Maritima (Jos. J. W. 1.408–15; Ant. 15.331– 41). Acts of redesigning and rebuilding the monumental Jerusalem Temple, however, were among Herod’s most crowning achievements. Some material evidence for Herod’s temple remains visible today. The most obvious of its elements include the western and southern foundation walls of the Temple platform. Recent excavations, which extend along the southern wall and the western foundation course of the complex (so‐called Western Wall Tunnels), moreover, have contributed supplementary insights into the urban planning and features of Herod’s Jerusalem, including the Temple (Netzer 2008). Salvage excavations and secondary sifting of the Waqf’s undocumented fill removal from the site (see below) have also revealed additional pottery and numismatic finds (coins) from the temple precinct, as well as, most recently, rare portions of polychromatic decorative stone work (opus sectile) (Hasson and Schuster 2016). Opus sectile is characteristic of flooring from Herod’s most elaborate building projects (Netzer 2008); recent discoveries of similar examples, found through the sifting process, might have paved the floors of the Temple complex or of another royal building complex constructed nearby. Epigraphic evidence also illuminates how selective was access to the Temple precinct in antiquity (see Matt. 23: 13). Two copies of a warning inscription, found north of the Temple mount and around the Lion’s Gate in Jerusalem, read: “No foreigner (allogenê) is to enter within the balustrade and forecourt surrounding the sacred precinct. Whoever is caught will be responsible for (his) consequent death” (transl. from CII/P I/1, 43–45). These texts, which likely adorned the Temple balustrade, support Josephus’ claim that similar regulations were posted around the Temple precinct (e.g., Ant. 15.417; J.W. 5.194). Several features of the warnings remain obscure, such as, what qualified someone as a “foreigner” and whether a

Material Culture of the Second Temple Period (pre‐70 ce)


death penalty was actually prescribed for these types of violations. Repetition of these warnings, however, illustrates both the presence of foreigners on the extended Temple grounds and differentiated access to distinct areas of the precinct (cf. Ezek. 44: 7, 9; 45: 1‐5; Isa. 52: 1). Other documentary evidence exists for the cross‐regional economic workings of the Jerusalem Temple. Jodi Magness has argued, for example, that caches of Tyrian silver and bronze coins found around the Dead Sea constituted collections of monies for a temple tax (Magness 2011, 102–103). This possibility is mirrored in Philo’s declaration that Alexandrian synagogues collected the proceeds from sales of first fruits for transfer to the Jerusalem Temple (Embassy 157; cf. Jos. Ant. 18.313). Caches of coins, excavated by archaeologists, may demonstrate the economic role of the Temple in the daily lives of Judaeans and Jews, in Judaea and farther afield. Features of other objects also replicate the images of specific implements associated with the cultic workings of the Temple. The oldest representations of its built menorah and showbread table (mentioned in biblical texts, including Exod. 26: 35) appear in graffiti discovered on a wall of a Roman‐period home in Jerusalem (Hachlili 2016; see Figure 7.1). The triumphal Arch of Titus, which Domitian erected for his brother (Titus), one decade after Flavian victories against rebellious Judaea, also depicts the punitive removal of these objects; one scene inside the arch, carved in high relief, depicts the menorah and showbread table being carried aloft (Hachlili 2016; Fine 2014; see Figure 7.2). Images in the graffiti and on the Roman monument thus dovetail with Josephus’ descriptions of the Temple’s contents and the process of their ultimate removal following the Jewish defeat (J.W. 5.218) (see also Kattan Gribetz, Chapter 28). Several factors diminish the available documentation for Herod’s Temple. Foremost, Roman troops deliberately and violently razed the Temple and its surrounding precinct in

Figure 7.1  Graffiti of Menorah and Showbread Table. Source: Israel Museum, by Nahum Slapak.


Karen B. Stern

Figure 7.2  Interior panel, arch of Titus, Rome. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/ File:Fra-titusbuen.jpg?uselang=en-gb.

response to the Jewish revolt against Rome (66/7–73 ce). This destruction was absolute and has significantly deprived archaeologists of a means to recover additional materials. Second, the site was continuously rebuilt in the years and centuries that followed: Romans, then Christians, and then Muslims, sequentially appropriated it and built their own sacred structures upon its foundations. A final explanation for the lacuna in evidence for the monumental structure relates to the current policies and politics concerning the surrounding site. Today, the Waqf, a Muslim religious authority, controls the platform on which the Temple once stood (identified by Jews as the Temple Mount and by Muslims as Haram al‐Sharif) and, upon which, the Dome of the Rock, the Al‐Aqsa Mosque, and associated gardens now stand. The Waqf prohibits any formal excavation of the precinct.

Proseuchai and Synagogues Despite the ongoing dominance of a sacrificial cult to YHWH in earlier periods, whether in Jerusalem, Elephantine, or elsewhere, evidence indicates that some Judaean and Jewish devotional practices grew more complex in periods following Alexander’s conquest of the eastern Mediterranean (c. 332 bce). Beginning in the middle of the third century bce, for instance, Judaeans and Jews designated or created spaces where they convened to pray and engage in other activities. These are variously called in Greek, proseuchai (singular, proseuchê, literally translates to “place of prayer”), or synagogai (singular, synagogê, literally translates to “place of gathering”). Emergences of these institutions are likely related to broader changes in the Hellenistic world.

Material Culture of the Second Temple Period (pre‐70 ce)


The earliest datable inscriptions that document proseuchai and synagogues derive from regions of Ptolemaic Egypt and Cyrene. Inside associated structures, Jews (and perhaps others), sustained acts of prayer, recited, interpreted (and, perhaps, translated) biblical scripture, gathered with their families and communities, celebrated festivals, and collected monies to send to the Jerusalem Temple, as suggested by the elite Jewish writer and philosopher, Philo (Embassy 157). Several plaques have been discovered from Egypt and Cyrene that document the donations of individuals and families to proseuchai, while some also detail donors’ complementary efforts to dedicate these institutions to regional dynasts. For example, one dedicatory inscription from the Egyptian town of Xenephris, dating to 140–116 bce, declares: “On behalf of king Ptolemy and queen Cleopatra the sister and queen Cleopatra the wife, the [Ioudaioi] of Xenephris (dedicated) the gateway of the proseuchê….” (transl. JIE, no. 24). Inscriptions from proseuchai and synagogues suggest that the erections of monumental dedicatory inscriptions were occasions for local Ioudaioi to publically consolidate familial, communal, and even political allegiances (see also Lander, Chapter 27). Some stone inscriptions, which once adorned comparable architectural spaces, more explicitly describe activities that took place within proseuchai and synagogues. One such text includes a dedicatory plaque recovered from the Old City in Jerusalem, which is currently displayed in the Israel Museum. The inscription, carved in the first century ce, predates the destruction of the Temple and begins by acclaiming the founder of the synagogue in Greek: “Theodotos (son) of Vettenus, priest and archisynagogos, son of an archisynagogos, and grandson of an archisynagogos.” It declares that Theodotos: “built the synagogue for the instruction of Law and for teaching of the commandments,” but that the building also possessed “water fixtures” and chambers for the lodging of pilgrims from abroad (transl. CII/P I/1 53–56, no. 9). This and the remaining portions of the text are significant for several reasons. First, the inscription ascribes to the founder and his progenitors the office of archisynagogos (head of synagogue), one of the best‐ attested hierarchical titles associated with Jewish populations in Judaea and elsewhere (JIE no. 18). It also confirms the significance of the priestly lineage, even outside of a Temple context, inside a building where public readings and teaching of the Torah constituted central activities. Mention of “water fittings” additionally suggests their supplementary use for the conduct of activities of immersion, ablution, or consumption. When examined collectively, therefore, features of this stone inscription demonstrate why early synagogues did not compete with or serve to replace the Jerusalem Temple. Activities conducted in proseuchai and early synagogues, whether found in Jerusalem, Alexandria, or elsewhere, rather served complementary functions in the devotional worlds and ­activities of their Jewish constituents.

Text and Prayer Different evidence for Jewish worship practices derives from texts associated with the Dead Sea Scrolls. Some (but not all) of these scrolls were found secreted in ceramic jars within caves in the cliffs surrounding the settlement of Khirbet Qumran, along a ­northwestern section of the Dead Sea. These texts are composed in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek and are written on parchment, papyrus, and copper (Magness 2002, p. 33). Most are now published (e.g., Martinez and Tigchelaar 2000), but research on associated textual fragments remains


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ongoing. John Collins offers an excellent recent introduction to the scrolls and controversies surrounding their discovery, production, authorship, and deposit (Collins 2013). He ­suggests that related groups, or “sects,” produced these texts, and ultimately secreted them inside local caves during the war against the Romans in 66–73 ce (Collins 2013). In all cases, examination of the texts and other archaeological finds from Qumran reveals the heightened role of biblical study and interpretation, among some Jewish groups, in the ­second and first centuries bce and first century ce (see also Mroczek, Chapter 5). The significance of the Qumran scrolls, for several reasons, cannot be overstated. From the outset, their collections include the oldest known versions of biblical texts, which significantly predate any previously known medieval copies. Additionally, they incorporate biblical commentaries (called pesharim) and varied types of “sectarian literature,” which record the stringent regulations for life in associated communities, whose members had withdrawn from society at large (1QS). While the precise reasons for individuals’ separations from society (and attractions to these sectarian communities) remains unknown, their members apparently believed that the Jerusalem Temple and its institutions had become impossibly corrupt; they associate the Temple with “a wicked priest” (1QpHab; 4QpPsa) and a “man of the lie” (1QpHab). As followers of the “teacher of righteousness” (CD 1: 9–11), these sectarians (those who separated from broader society to form an independent group, or “sect”) believed that they were the “sons of light” (1QM 1:1) and the true heirs to the biblical tradition. They anticipated an eschatological battle, in which they would defeat the “Sons of Darkness” (1QM 1:1). Distinctions in lifestyle and hostility to the Temple apparatus provoked the sect’s isolation from society at large (Collins 2013). Certain features of sectarian life, as documented in the Dead Sea Scrolls, were particularly unusual among contemporaneous Jews. For example, sectarians applied to the entire community purity regulations otherwise restricted to those of the priestly lineage in Jerusalem and elsewhere (Magness 2011, p. 54). Texts prescribe that sectarians should donate and pool their personal wealth and replace their participation in sacrificial practices of the Jerusalem Temple with carefully regulated and communal activities of meeting, prayer, commensality, textual study, and interpretation (1QS). On one level, the historical existence of such groups, including those described in the scrolls, remains unsurprising, given that Josephus (J.W. 2.119; Ant. 10), Philo, and later rabbinic sources speak of the existence of several contemporaneous sects or “philosophical schools” during that period. These sects also included those variously designated as the Pharisees, Sadducees, and the ascetic Essenes (with whom the members of the Dead Sea sects are frequently associated). Writers particularly document the emergence of these groups in the Roman period, which may bespeak accelerating divisions in Judaean society (cf. Schwartz 2002). Texts found in caves around the Dead Sea, nonetheless, preserve information about such groups, but, crucially, in the words of their own members.

Theology and Belief While many have concluded that beliefs in “one god, one temple, one Torah” were constitutive of Judaean and Jewish identification in antiquity (Schwartz 2002), epigraphic evidence, as we have seen, reveals that this slogan was not uniformly understood or

Material Culture of the Second Temple Period (pre‐70 ce)


­interpreted. For example, although Second Temple literature describes worship of YHWH as exclusive (scholars customarily summarize this type of worship through terms such as “monotheistic,” “henotheistic,” or “monolatrous”; Smith 2003), statistically significant numbers of archaeological data from the Iron Age (c. 1200–586 bce) through the Persian, and through the Roman periods, suggest that realities, on the ground, were far more complex (Olyan 2012, pp. 190–201). Worship of the God of Israel (in terms of exclusivity, appropriate location, and practice) meant different things to different people, whether during periods associated with the use of the First or Second Temple. Epigraphic records for the acts of King Herod exhibit this theological complexity or ambiguity. Herod variously identified himself as a Jew, offered multiple dedications in Greek civic spaces to pagan cults (IJO I, Ach74; Ach38–39), and erected entire shrines to the worship of pagan deities. His son Antipas followed his father’s lead in these respects (IJO I, Ach69). Yet similarly and seemingly incongruous patterns are equally apparent in more quotidian evidence for Judaeans and Jews of lesser socioeconomic status during the Second Temple period. Graffiti indicate that some Ioudaioi, for example, acclaimed their god (or a pagan god) in distinctly pagan devotional settings, such as inside a desert sanctuary dedicated to the merged Egyptian/Hellenistic gods Pan/Min, in El‐Kanaïs in the Egyptian desert (Stern 2013a). Similar markings are also identified among the earliest inscriptions on the walls of Elijah’s cave, which originally served as a pagan shrine carved into the side of Mt. Carmel in Haifa, Israel (Ilan 2012, p. 499). Strategic locations of these inscriptions suggest that some Ioudaioi might have worshipped their ancestral god in cult centers for pagan deities or, rather, acknowledged the existence of multiple divinities. At the very least, some Judaeans or Jews might have been more flexible about their conceptions of deity and cultic activities than earlier biblical and later rabbinic sources permit (see m. ‘Abod. Zara. 3: 2).

Household/Daily Life Behaviors distinctive of Judaean and Jewish populations were, of course, not limited to devotional activities conducted in exceptional places, such as temples or proseuchai. Instead, some took place in domestic, commercial, or public contexts. Unfortunately, literary accounts of domestic life are rare pre‐70 ce. Likewise, due to their ephemeral or obscure nature, many behaviors associated with the household defy archaeological attestation. In rare cases, however, synthetic readings of epigraphic and archaeological data demonstrate some ways that daily life and domestic spaces were infused with, as Andrea Berlin puts it, distinctly “Jewish sensibilities” during this period—even if these sensibilities were interpreted and expressed differently, in different regions, by Judaeans and Jews of distinct convictions or economic position (Berlin 2005). Particular customs of diet and commensality offered one means for Judaeans and Jews to distinguish their daily activities from those of their neighbors (Rosenblum 2016). These included abstention from pork and other prohibited foods (2 Macc. 7), as well as dietary changes during festivals. The Elephantine archive includes a letter, dated to 419 bce, in which a certain Hananiah declares that his fellow inhabitants of Yeb should remember to “keep the Passover” (PSḤ) for seven days by keeping clean, abstaining from work, and


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avoiding intoxicants and leavened foods (Porten 1996, B31, p. 7). Hananiah’s reminders doubly enforce distinctions between the Passover festival and other calendar days, and between the eating practices of Judaeans and those of their neighbors. Daily eating practices can also be discerned archaeologically, either through the examination of food storage or waste remains, or through attention to shapes and distributions of the containers used to cook and consume food. The latter method, in particular, has highlighted diagnostic features of Jewish homes in the Second Temple period. Andrea Berlin’s attention to distinctive and sudden shifts in the designs and sources of table wares and kitchen wares in ancient towns such as Gamla, for example, supports her argument that a household‐based Judaism began to develop, particularly in Judaea, Gaulinitis and Galilee, during the late Hellenistic and early Roman eras (Berlin 2005). The sudden presence, in private homes, of stone vessels, composed of limestone or soft chalk, offers one datum for this broader argument. So too does the sudden disappearance, in first‐century homes, of imported ceramic goods, including fine wares and molded lamps. Locally produced ceramics and knife‐paired lamps replace them. Berlin argues that these changes are not due to intensified “halakhic or priestly concerns” but rather to “shared beliefs as well as a broad desire for material possessions [to encode] them” (Berlin 2005; cf. Magness 2011, p. 65). Magness differently attributes the replacement of stone vessels for ceramic ones to increased purity concerns (Magness 2011, pp. 72–73). Likewise, she traces the disappearance of fine wares and lamps to a reluctance to import pottery types, which commonly bore figural images (Magness 2011, p. 74). The latter interpretation dovetails with Orit Peleg‐ Barkat’s recent observation that, “Judaism of … the time of the Hasmonaeans onward, appears to take a negative approach towards figurative art” (Peleg‐Barkat 2016, p. 27). Regardless of the precise explanations for these shifts in domestic forms, Berlin’s assessment remains apt: these changes in material culture may collectively signify the development of a new type of “household Judaism” in the late Hellenistic through early Roman periods and “reveal a desire to make religious behavior part of ­everyday life” (Berlin 2005, p. 470). Other features of daily life equally encode efforts, by Judaeans and Jews, to respond to their neighbors’ behaviors through emulation, rejection, or modification. Practices that relate to hygiene, bathing, and the toilet offer some examples of this. One of the most striking architectural features associated with the pre‐70 ce period, for example, is the sudden appearance of stepped bathing pools (miqva’ot) around domestic settlements and in private homes, throughout rural and urban areas in Judaea and surrounding regions. Nearly 700 pools have been discovered to date (Miller 2015). Interpretations of miqva’ot remain complex: most scholars argue that their presence signifies Jewish construction and settlement. Others analyze the stepped pools differently, with an eye to the prominent role of bathing in Rome and in the Roman Provinces, more broadly (Miller 2015; see Figure 7.3). Readings of the Qumran scrolls, however, definitively highlight the significance of ritual bathing, particularly to precede commensality, among members of associated groups. Some texts prescribe full immersion in water before joining communal activities of eating and drinking (Magness 2011, p. 73; 1QS 5: 13; 4Q274 frags. 1–2; 4Q514 frag 1; 4Q512 col. 2 frags. 7–9; cf. J.W. 2.129). The practice of full‐body immersion before eating is consistent with the sectarian focus on purity but appears to be an expansion of ­contemporaneous Jewish practice attested elsewhere, which included immersing hands before a meal (Matt. 15: 1–2; Mark 7: 1–5; m. Ḥ ag. 2: 5; Magness 2011, p. 18).

Material Culture of the Second Temple Period (pre‐70 ce)


Figure 7.3  Entrance to a miqveh in Jerusalem. Photo: Naomi Koltun‐Fromm.

Archaeological evidence for latrines and toilet practices equally illuminate questions of identity and ritual practice among Jews of this period. While latrines from earlier periods have been discovered in Jerusalem (Magness 2002, p. 107), the most explicit archaeological evidence for toilet practices comes from Qumran (Magness 2002, pp. 105–110; Fig. 41). One latrine has been found on the site, suggested through the placement of a possible toilet seat in a space adjacent to a miqveh. Magness evaluates DeVaux’s original excavation records of the site to support the theory that a wooden door originally adorned the room’s entrance to maintain occupants’ privacy (Magness 2011, p. 143). Connections between the populations who composed the Dead Sea Scrolls and those who inhabited the Qumran settlement remain controversial. However, to Magness, the design of the privy offers a cogent argument for the link between them (Magness 2002). Selected Qumran texts prescribe total ritual immersion after acts of evacuation, which, as texts describe, should be conducted in private (4QMMT). Magness thus suggests that the archaeology of the Qumran toilet, with a door and a position beside the miqveh, documents the implementation of this guideline. Few behaviors conducted at Qumran should be considered typical of contemporaneous Jewish populations. Attention to toilet ­practices, however, demonstrates another way that populations used hygiene habits to differentiate their bodily purity practices from those of their Jewish peers.

Marriage and Family Life Inscriptions on papyrus and stone also record practices related to marriage and family life, which diverge from textual prescription. One of the diagnostic tropes in post‐exilic ­biblical literature, for instance, is a renewed emphasis on endogamy. Biblical texts of the Persian period specifically advocate that Judaean men should marry women from families of


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returned exiles and not from those Judaean families who had remained in the land after the Babylonian conquest. Relevant discussions offer multiple and novel explanations for this extreme form of endogamy: first, that Judaeans should avoid “mixing” the “holy seed” of Israel with the peoples of the lands (Ezra 9: 2) and, second, that they should ensure their children’s Hebrew language competency (Neh. 13: 23). Contents of legal papyri, however, suggest that such preferences for endogamy were not universally followed. Fifth‐century contracts from Elephantine, for instance, record marriages between Judaean men and local women or female slaves. Papyri also record marriage contracts whose terms differ from those embedded in biblical texts in which men exclusively initiate marriage and divorce (Deut. 24: 1–4). For instance, the ­marriage contract of a certain Ananiah, son of Haggai, from Elephantine, declares: (21) …. If at some future date Ananiah should arise in an/the assembly and declare, “I divorce my wife Yehoyishma’; (22) she shall not be a wife to me,” he shall become liable for divorce money. … (24)… If, on the other hand, Yehoyishma’ should divorce her husband (25) Ananiah and say to him, “I divorce you, I will not be wife to you,” she shall become liable for divorce money. (transl. Kraeling 1953, p. 204–207)

The above marriage contract thus outlines how either a husband or a wife could initiate divorce and pay associated penalties. This may reflect a distinctly local legal convention or a broader Judaean/Jewish one, which runs counter to biblical and rabbinic textual evidence. Other dimensions of family life are best preserved in Jewish inscriptions, particularly in epitaphs. Laments embedded in funerary texts, for example, reveal common expectations that men and women should marry and procreate. Many epitaphs bewail the deaths of yet unmarried or childless young women (e.g., JIE no. 61). Others express sorrow for the pre‐decease of men, as well as women. One epitaph from Demerdash, near Heliopolis states: “Joseph, son of Phomounis, untimely dead, childless,” (transl. JIE no. 110). Only worse than such fates were those of children, whose mortality rates were high (e.g., JIE no. 102–104; 107). Death during childbirth was also common (JIE no. 197); one Greek epitaph from Leontopolis bewails the death of a certain Kleopas, who died “in childbirth, the loved one” (JIE no. 99).

Death, Commemoration, and the Afterlife Spaces to house the dead could be as culturally encoded as those designed to house the living. As such, mortuary environments retain some of the clearest and most important archaeological information we possess relating to Jewish life in the Second Temple period (Berlin 2002). Death, after all, furnished one of the only occasions for many Judaeans and Jews to build with non‐ephemeral materials and to commemorate the lives of loved ones; an epitaph might have constituted the only document on which an individual’s name was ever written down! One of the earliest records for a monument constructed for the dead in Hellenistic Judaea is embedded in a literary source. It describes how Simon Maccabeus (brother of Judah) constructed a famed mortuary monument for his father and brothers:

Material Culture of the Second Temple Period (pre‐70 ce)


… he made it high so that it might be seen, with polished stone at the front and back. He also erected seven pyramids…. For [which] he devised an elaborate setting, erecting about them great columns, and on the columns he put suits of armor for a permanent memorial, and beside the suits of armor he carved ships, so that they could be seen by all who sail the sea. (1 Macc. 13: 27–30; transl. Harrington 2012, pp. 72–73)

This account is echoed in the records of Josephus (Ant. 13.210–11), but no architectural remains of the tomb survive. What is significant about the description, however, is the degree to which its features mimic one of the most famous tombs in the ancient world—the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus (Berlin 2002; Magness 2011). This fact is remarkable, because Mausolos was a Hellenistic king and the Maccabees consistently portrayed themselves as distinctly anti‐Hellene, in all respects (e.g., 2 Macc. 4: 12–14). Despite Maccabean polemics against Hellenistic cultural forms, therefore, Simon (or, at the very least, the redactor of 1 Maccabees) unapologetically advertises Simon’s use of Hellenistic and Egyptian models (including displays of armor and pyramids) to aggrandize a mortuary monument for his family. The elites of Judaea followed Simon’s lead. During the Second Temple period, Jerusalem’s wealthiest residents increasingly emulated Hellenistic and Roman designs and dimensions for their mortuary monuments (Berlin 2002). The earliest documented “display tomb,” commonly called “Jason’s Tomb,” still stands in Rechavia in West Jerusalem (Berlin 2005). The tomb is an architectural hybrid and its Hellenistic features include its pyramidal top and carved loculi (extended burial spaces) in its burial chamber (Figure 7.4). Other of its aspects, however, reflect conventions of regional tombs of the First Temple period, including its multiple courtyards, which led to a porch, which preceded entry to a burial chamber and a space for the secondary burial of human remains (Magness 2011, p. 148; Kloner and Zissu 2007). During subsequent decades, the wealthier classes in Jerusalem continued to up the ante by building increasingly elaborate tombs in visible locations as a means to display their wealth. The scale and grandeur of tombs of foreigners, including those of Queen Helen of Abiabene (called the Tomb of the Kings, situated by the American Colony Hotel), the Bene Ḥ ezir Tomb in the Kidron Valley, and Nicanor’s tomb on Mt. Scopus, projected the status and wealth of associated families to passersby. So too did the construction of more extensive complexes with decorated façades in Sanhedria in Jerusalem (Magness 2011, p. 151; Figure 7.5). Trends of mortuary display accelerated during the Roman period; monuments, such as the so‐called Tomb of Absalom and Tomb of Zechariah, visible in the Kidron Valley today, reflect building forms of the Hellenistic and Roman worlds, as well as of those more conventional in Nabataean mortuary contexts, farther to the south and southeast (including tombs from the ancient cities of Petra and Hegra, in modern Jordan and Saudi Arabia, respectively). As Peleg‐Barkat has argued, Jerusalem’s elites used these tombs as vehicles to project their cosmopolitanism and to engage in acts of competitive display (Peleg‐Barkat 2014). Tombs constructed by and for members of lower classes were humbler in scale and materials than the monuments described above. Some included carved burial caves with simpler entrances or single burial chambers (Kloner and Zissu 2007). Individuals of lesser means built or dug shallow graves into the earth, few of which survive. Versions of the

Figure 7.4  Courtyard of Jason’s Tomb, Rechavia, Jerusalem. Jason's Tomb 13 August 2007. Source: Deror avi. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Jason%27s_Tomb_P8020030.JPG. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Figure 7.5  Tomb in Sanhedria, Jerusalem. Sanhedrin tomb, 25 October 2012. Source: Yoninah https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sanhedrin_tombs_2.jpg. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

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latter types are found in the Qumran necropolis, piled with stones (Magness 2011, p. 150). In all cases, modes of burial offered an important means for individuals to care for their families and to project their cultural values and identities, to the best of their means, whether according to local and/or cross‐cultural paradigms. Another significant change in burial practices among Jews in the Roman period, and particularly in Judaea, included the sudden rise in the popularity of ossuaries (bone boxes) for secondary burial of human remains. Ossuaries usually resemble rectangular boxes, with flat, gabled, or curved lids. Some were constructed from carved limestone and chalkstone; others were molded in ceramic (Rachmani and Sussman 1994). Some of these were unadorned, while others were heavily decorated and/or inscribed; many were mass‐produced (Magness 2011, pp. 151–153; Rachmani and Sussman 1994). While secondary burial was a longstanding tradition in the region, whereby family members collected the bones of a decomposed corpse and re‐deposited them into pits or charnel rooms, the custom of collecting bones into individual boxes to be inserted into larger tombs became increasingly popular during this time. What accounts for this sudden change in burial practice? Jodi Magness, among others, argues that it can be linked to local elites’ emulation of all things Roman (Magness 2011, p. 152). During the same periods, most Romans cremated their dead and deposited their incinerated remains in boxes that resembled Judaean ossuaries (Magness 2011, p. 153). As Magness has argued, the design of most ossuaries permitted local elites to emulate one aspect of Roman burial practice (the container), even if their treatments of human remains differed significantly (through use of secondary burial, as opposed to cremation). Most tellingly, related customs fell out of use after 70 ce—this suggests that Roman practices lost status after the Romans destroyed the Jerusalem Temple (Magness 2011, pp. 153–155). However, Jews also buried their dead in different ways inside cemeteries outside of Judaea. Diaspora Jews, in fact, most commonly emulated mortuary conventions of their neighbors and peers. Mortuary architecture associated with diaspora Jews, for instance, largely follows regional prototypes in the Hellenistic period in Alexandria, Leontopolis, and Cyrene. In these places, Jewish epitaphs are often found in “mixed” cemeteries (subterranean and otherwise) alongside other tombs and epitaphs with no Jewish association (Stern 2013b). Jews, in other cases, built their tombs directly beside those of their neighbors. Farther south in Arabian Hegra, the southern capital of the Nabataean kingdom, for example, one first century epitaph, carved in local Nabataean Aramaic script, commemorates: “…. the tomb which Shubaytu son of Aliu, the Jew (yĕhûdāy), made for himself and his children and for Amirat, his wife” (transl. Hoyland no. 1, 2011, p. 93). Only the designation of Shubaytu’s father as a yĕhûdāy differentiates his family and his monumental tomb from those of neighboring populations.

Afterlife? Considerations of afterlife first emerge in earlier biblical literature (1 Sam. 28: 13; Isa. 14: 9–11), but related notions grow increasingly popular in apocalyptic and pseudepigraphic texts during the Second Temple period (e.g., Pss. Sol. xiv 2(3): 6). Afterlife beliefs might have risen to sufficient prominence to serve as points of contention between competing


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Jewish sects or philosophical schools during periods of Roman rule (Ant. 18.1.2–6; m. Yad. 4: 6). Frequent discussions of the “world to come” in rabbinic literature (m. Sanh. 10: 1) equally demonstrate an intensified focus, through time, on the preconditions for and possibilities of life after death. The epigraphic and archaeological record, however, betrays varied mortuary and post‐ mortuary afterlife beliefs among regional Judaeans and Jews. Sometimes epitaphs for Judaeans and Jews, whether in Egypt or Judaea, describe death as an inevitable terminus, worthy of lament. One child’s epitaph describes how his “father greatly mourns, melted his soul” (JIE no. 29); other epitaphs, also written in Greek, express hope that the dead will “find the earth light” upon their bodies (JIE no. 109). Other inscriptions suggest more developed notions of life after death, as taking place in a location where the holy or pious ones are collected. A Greek epitaph for a Jewish woman from Tell‐el‐Yehoudieh (Leontopolis, middle of the second to first century bce) includes a lament for the death of a certain Arsinoe, who died during childbirth; it describes how her soul has “flown to the holy ones” (JIE, no. 33). Allusions to an afterlife increasingly appear in Jewish e­ pitaphs in later antiquity (Park 2000, p. 78).

Places in Society Judaeans and Jews occupied a broad range of political, social, and economic positions within their respective societies. The poorest of the poor, however, are less visible in the archaeological record; they rarely had enough money to afford the purchase of durable materials that might survive the test of time and document their lives. Nonetheless, certain documents, such as letters from the Xenon papyri, may testify to how some Judaeans served as slaves or occupied intermediate social status during the early Hellenistic period (CPJ 1). Ranges in the quality and scale of homes, tombs, and pottery in Judaea demonstrate that some Judaeans and Jews amassed and wielded considerable wealth, while others were of humbler status. Many Jews also possessed material wealth and elevated social status in first century ce Alexandria: Philo’s membership among Alexandrian elites demonstrates one clear example of this. The precise position of Judaeans and Jews within their local, regional, and cross‐regional ­environments thus necessarily depended upon regional institutions, economic and legal possibilities for social mobility, and sheer luck. Few epitaphs from Judaea, of this period, record the professional occupations of the deceased. Nonetheless, contents of papyri and inscriptions reveal that Judaeans and Jews, who worked and settled elsewhere in Egypt, the Mediterranean and Mesopotamia, practiced wide ranges of professions. The Elephantine archive documents Judaeans involved with the Persian military garrison. Graffiti written by Ioudaioi in El‐Kanaïs document their writers’ occupations as traders, who transported and plied their wares by land and sea. Additional evidence from an Egyptian dedicatory inscription, probably from a proseuchê describes a donor as a “chief of police” (JIE no. 27). Other regional epitaphs commemorate doctors (JIE nos. 30 and 40), and strategoi (JIE no. 129). Jews could also serve as bankers. Extensive and diachronic records from Nippur attest to the flourishing of a local family with the name of Murashu, of Judahite origin, in the fourth century bce (Coogan 1976). Caches of clay loan documents, in local cuneiform,

Material Culture of the Second Temple Period (pre‐70 ce)


chronicle the Murashus’ rise to prominence among Babylon’s banking elites; this family remained in their adoptive land well after they would have been permitted to depart for Judaea after Persia conquered Babylonia. Archaeological evidence from Judaea offers additional information about the livelihoods of local populations. Ubiquitous remains of terracing, constructed in the Hellenistic and Roman periods along hillsides, are particularly linked to Judaean and Jewish practices of olive cultivation and husbandry.

Assessment Consideration of material culture ultimately illustrates greater social, political, and cultural continuities between Jewish and non‐Jewish populations in Judaea and in the Diaspora than textual sources suggest. Through scrutiny of epistolary communications with Persian officials about a Judaean temple in Elephantine of political figures mentioned in dedicatory plaques of proseuchai, of words of divine praise carved into the walls of a sanctuary to Pan in El‐Kanaïs, or through conventional use of cuneiform in Murashu loan agreements, we gain an insight into the integrated worlds of Judaeans, Jews, and their neighbors throughout the eastern Mediterranean, Arabia, and Mesopotamia during the entirety of the Second Temple period. Continuities in language practices, perhaps surprisingly, substantiate these types of observations. Textual sources, such as the pseudepigraphic Letter of Aristeas, reflect anxieties about Jews’ dominant use of Greek (rather than their facility with biblical Hebrew) in first century Alexandria. By contrast, inscriptional evidence for Jews in Egypt, Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, and Arabia, such as that reviewed above, exhibits little concern with using languages, other than Hebrew, to communicate with regional powers and among Jewish populations. Uses of Aramaic in Elephantine during periods of Persian rule, of Greek in Judaea, Egypt, and Cyrene during the Hellenistic and Roman periods, and of Nabataean Aramaic in areas of Nabataean control, collectively demonstrate how Judaeans and Jews largely engaged in regional conventions of contemporaneous writing and language use (see also Yadin-Israel, Chapter 4). These continuities of language use, of course, cannot tell the whole story about Judaeans, Jews, and their modes of identification in surrounding societies. At certain times, for instance, it appears that Jews deliberately performed activities that distinguished themselves from their neighbors. They often assembled and worshipped their god in distinct architectural spaces (temples, proseuchai, or synagogues). They ate differently than their neighbors during festivals, such as the “festival of unleavened bread,” and, at all times of the year, in their abstinence from pork meat. At still other times, they might have changed the vessels they used inside their households to engage in distinctive eating or hygiene practices, and to thereby articulate religious and cultural differences within and among other groups. Examinations of material culture, in the forms of inscriptions, architecture, and objects, draw attention, in more sensitive ways, to associated transformations and variability throughout place and time. Evidence from material culture ultimately inspires new questions about the breadth and complexity of Jewish life and experiences during the pre‐70 ce period. It retains rare and


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critical information about continuities and transformations within Judaism in periods that precede and follow the destruction of the second Jerusalem temple. Integration of these types of data with studies of literary evidence ultimately offers a more comprehensive approach to ancient Judaean and Jewish life during periods of Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman rule.

REFERENCES Aviam, Mordechai (2013). The decorated stone from the synagogue at Migdal: a holistic interpretation and a glimpse into the life of Galilean Jews at the time of Jesus. Novum Testamentum 55: 205–220. Baker, Cynthia (2016). Jew (Key Words in Jewish Studies). New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. Berlin, Andrea M. (2002). Power and its afterlife: tombs in Hellenistic Palestine. Near Eastern Archaeology 65 (2): 138. Berlin, Andrea (2005). Jewish life before the revolt: the archaeological evidence. Journal for the Study of Judaism 36 (4): 417–470. Cohen, S.J.D. (1998). The Beginnings of Jewishness: Boundaries, Varieties, Uncertainties. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Collins, John (2013). The Dead Sea Scrolls. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Coogan, Michael (1976). More Yahwistic names in the Murashu documents. Journal for the Study of Judaism 7: 199–200. DeMarrais, Elizabeth (2004). The materialization of culture. In: Rethinking Materiality: The Engagement of Mind with the Material World (eds. Elizabeth DeMarrais, Chris Gosden, and Colin Renfrew), 11–21. Exeter: McDonald Institute. Fine, Steven (2014). When I went to Rome … There I saw the Menorah: the Jerusalem Temple implements in rabbinic memory, history, and myth. Art, History and the Historiography of Judaism in Roman Antiquity, 63–86. Leiden: Brill. Gell, Alfred (1998). Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Hachlili, Rachel (2016). Why did the Menorah and not the Showbread Table evolve into the most important symbol of Judaism? In: Jewish Art in Its Late Antique Context (eds. Uzi Leibner and Catherine Hezser), 189–212. Leiden: Brill. Harrington, Daniel (2012). First and Second Maccabees: A Commentary. Minnesota: Liturgical Press. Hasson, Nir and Schuster, Ruth (2016). Archaeologists restore Second Temple flooring from Waqf’s trash—archaeology. Haaretz.com, 6 September 2016. Accessed 24 January 2017. http://www.haaretz.com/jewish/archaeology/1.740548. Hodder, Ian (1989). The Meanings of Things: Material Culture and Symbolic Expression. London: Unwin Hyman. Hoyland, Robert (2011). The Jews of the Hijaz in the Quran and in their inscriptions. In: New Perspectives on the Qur’an: The Qur’an in Its Historical Context, 2e (ed. Gabriel Said Reynolds), 91–116. London and New York: Routledge. Ilan, Tal (2012). Lexicon of Jewish Names in Late Antiquity, Part II: Palestine 200–650. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck.

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Kloner, Amos and Zissu, Boaz (2007). The Necropolis of Jerusalem in the Second Temple Period. Leuven: Peeters. Kraeling, Emil Gottlieb Heinrich (1953). The Brooklyn Museum Aramaic Papyri; New Documents of the Fifth Century B.C. from the Jewish Colony at Elephantine. New Haven: Published for the Brooklyn Museum by the Yale University Press. Kraemer, Ross S (1991). Jewish tuna and Christian fish: identifying religious affiliation in epigraphic sources. Harvard Theological Review 84 (02): 141–162. Magness, Jodi (2002). The Archaeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. Magness, Jodi (2011). Stone and Dung, Oil and Spit: Jewish Daily Life in the Time of Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. Martínez, Florentino Garcia and Tigchelaar, Eibert (eds.) (2000). The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition, Vol. 1, 1Q1–4Q273, Vol. 2, 4Q274–11Q31. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. Mason, Steve (2013). Flavius Josephus: Translation and Commentary. Vol. 1a: Judean War. Leiden: Brill. Mason, Steve (2014). Ancient Jews or Judeans: different questions, different answers. The Marginalia Review of Books, August 26, 2014. Accessed January 24, 2017: http:// marginalia.lareviewofbooks.org/tag/steve‐mason. Miller, Stuart (2015). At the Intersection of Text and Material Finds Stepped Pools, Stone Vessels, and Ritual Purity Among the Jews of Roman Galilee. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht Gmbh & Co. Neis, Rachel (2016). Religious lives of image‐things, Avodah Zarah, and rabbis in late antique Palestine. Archiv für Religionsgeschichte 17: 91–122. Netzer, Ehud (2008). The Architecture of Herod, the Great Builder. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. Olyan, Saul M. (2011). Social Inequality in the World of the Text: The Significance of Ritual and Social Distinctions in the Hebrew Bible. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. Olyan, Saul M. (2012). Is Isaiah 40: 55 really monotheistic? Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions 12: 190–201. Park, Joseph S. (2000). Conceptions of Afterlife in Jewish Inscriptions: With Special Reference to Pauline Literature. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. Peleg‐Barkat, Orit (2014). Fit for a king: architectural décor in Judaea and Herod as trendsetter. Bulletin of the American School of Oriental Research 371: 141–161. Peleg‐Barkat, Orit (2016). Interpreting the uninterpreted: art as a means of expressing identity in early Roman Judaea. In: Jewish Art in Its Late Antique Context (eds. Uzi Leibner and Catherine Hezser), 27–48. Leiden: Brill. Porten, Bezalel (1996). The Elephantine Papyri in English: Three Millennia of Cross‐­ cultural Continuity and Change. Leiden and New York: Brill. Rachmani, L.Y. and Sussman, Ayala (1994). A Catalogue of Jewish Ossuaries: In the Collections of the State of Israel. Jerusalem, Israel: Israel Antiquities Authority. Reed, Yoshiko Annette (2014). Ioudaios before and after “Religion.” In: The Marginalia Review of Books, 26 August 2014. Accessed 24 January 2017. http://marginalia. lareviewofbooks.org/author/reeda/. Reinhartz, Adele (2014) The vanishing Jews of antiquity. In: The Marginalia Review of Books, 26 August 2014. Accessed 24 January 2017. http://marginalia.lareviewofbooks. org/vanishing‐jews‐antiquity‐adele‐reinhartz/.


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Rosenblum, Jordan (2016). Jewish Dietary Laws in the Ancient World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Schwartz, Seth (2002). Imperialism and Jewish Society: 200 B.C.E. to 640 C.E. (Jews, Christians, and Muslims from the Ancient to the Modern World). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Smith, Mark (2003). The Origins of Biblical Monotheism: Israel’s Polytheistic Background and the Ugaritic Texts. New York: Oxford University Press. Stern, Karen (2013a). Vandals or pilgrims? Jews and the Temple of Pan in Egyptian El‐ Kanais. In: The One Who Sows Bountifully: Essays in Honor of Stanley K. Stowers (eds. Caroline Johnston Hodge, Daniel Ulucci, Saul Olyan, and Emma Wasserman), 177–188. Indiana: Eisenbrauns. Stern, Karen (2013b). Death and burial in the Jewish Diaspora. In: Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Archaeology (eds. Daniel Master, Avraham Faust, Beth Alpert Nakhai, L. Michael White, and Jürgen Zangenberg), vol. 1, 270–280. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Tilley, Christopher Y., Keane, Webb, Küchleer, Suzanne, Rowlands, Mike, and Spyer, Patricia (eds.) (2006). Handbook of Material Culture. London: SAGE.

Guide to Relevant Corpora and Abbreviations CII/P 2010. Cotton, Hannah M. and Daniel, Robert (2010). Corpus inscriptionum Iudaeae/Palestinae: A Multi‐lingual Corpus of the Inscriptions from Alexander to Muhammad, vol. I/1. Jerusalem and Berlin: De Gruyter. CPJ 1 1957. Tcherikover, Viktor and Fuks, Alexander (1957). Corpus Papyrorum Judaicarum. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. IJO I 2004. Noy, David, Panayotov, Alexander, and Bloedhorn, Hanswulf (2004). Inscriptiones Judaicae Orientis I. Eastern Europe. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. JIE 1992. Horbury, William and Noy, David (1992). Jewish Inscriptions of Graeco‐Roman Egypt. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


How Do Jews Matter? Exploring  Late‐Ancient Mediterranean Jews and Jewishness Through Material Culture Cynthia M. Baker Introduction What can ancient material objects—remains of houses and neighborhoods, places of ­worship and burial; inscriptions, archives, and images; tools, adornments, coins, and foodstuffs—tell us about the lives and practices of Jews in communities throughout the Mediterranean in Late Antiquity? How might such objects confirm or challenge what we think we know about Jewishness and Jews in antiquity—and why does that matter? In what follows, I address these questions with regard to a broad span of time (c. 70 to 700 ce) and a variety of Mediterranean locales and regions ranging from Syria Palaestina in the far‐eastern Mediterranean through North Africa, Asia Minor, Greece, and Rome, to the far‐western reaches of Gaul and Spain. Given this range, the exploration will be, of necessity, schematic and far from exhaustive. Yet before we may even begin to sketch out current impressions of Jews and Jewishness in these times and places on the basis of the material culture left behind, we must first grapple with two challenges that are fundamental to this overall enterprise. First is the question of what makes matter—material objects—“Jewish.” What are the principles of identification by which we determine which objects to study? That is, which objects count as Jewish or as able to inform us about Jews? Second is the recognition that many practices, beliefs, and ideas leave behind little or no material trace, and those traces that do survive the ravages and randomization of time are often far from easy to interpret. They frequently lend themselves to multiple, sometimes conflicting, interpretations and, at best,

A Companion to Late Ancient Jews and Judaism: Third Century bce to Seventh Century ce, First Edition. Edited by Naomi Koltun-Fromm and Gwynn Kessler. © 2020 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published 2020 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


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provide only a snapshot from within ever‐changing cultural conditions. This recognition goes hand‐in‐hand with the certain knowledge that the vast majority of those who might be identified as Jews in antiquity (including almost all non‐elites) have left behind no material evidence whatsoever of their Jewishness, and only the tiniest fraction of their material effects has ever been recovered (Levine 2012). These challenges, although they call for careful thought and attention, are not entirely insurmountable. They do leave us, however, with a great deal of latitude in interpreting our data and hence with significant choices to make in determining how we conceive of the subject matter of our investigations. For example, do we understand Jewishness to be a multicultural phenomenon and perceive its expressions as integral elements of many different local and regional cultures—of Alexandria or the Galilee, North Africa or Asia Minor? Or do we, instead, understand Jews to constitute a singular, self‐contained culture with a “homeland” and scattered “diaspora enclaves” comprising discrete, isolated communities that “interact with,” “adapt to,” “assimilate to,” or “resist” larger established “host” cultures or colonizers? This latter way of characterizing Jews and Jewishness in Late Antiquity and beyond represents a long‐standing and popular paradigm, one that has shaped our perceptions over the course of several generations of modern scholarship (Graetz 1898; Feldman 1993; Smallwood 1981). Nevertheless, emerging insights and developments in the field are strengthening the case for a shift toward comprehending Jews and Jewishness as more often at home in disparate cultural contexts than as alien transplants into societies created by others (Gruen 2004; Levine 2012; Rutgers 2000; Schwartz 2001). The present essay helps to illuminate these shifting perceptions and the reasons for them by considering the surviving ancient evidence thematically. This approach allows for attention to variety and consistency through time and place without imposing either paradigm. One framework or the other might, in fact, serve to describe the experiences and perceptions of different Jews in different locales and eras of the late‐ancient Mediterranean. This essay explores the matter of Jews under two broad rubrics: (1) everyday life (through a focus on residential, commercial, and agricultural architecture, along with small finds and inscriptions) and (2) synagogues and burials (comprising collective Jewish monumental and mortuary architecture and inscriptions). It concludes with some thoughts about how the matter of late‐ancient Jews and Jewishness comes to matter in our own day.

Everyday Life The basic components of everyday life are few: food and water, clothing and shelter. To these we might aptly add the work necessary to sustain life or to function in one’s social station. Archaeology has certainly provided us with vast numbers of residential and commercial structures, household objects and wastes, food residues and paleobotanical remains such as ancient seeds and pollen, as well as occasional images and inscriptions relating to everyday life and work. But are there such things, archaeologically speaking, as a “Jewish” house or household object? A “Jewish” shop or tool? By what characteristics would we come to surmise the “Jewishness” of such artefacts?

Do Jews Matter? Exploring Late-Ancient Mediterranean Jews


Much has been made, for example, of the relative absence of pig bones and figural art in assigning “Jewishness” to a residence or region because biblical law prohibits consumption of pork and the production of “graven images.” But, determining the presence of “Jewishness” through the happenstance of absence or scarcity can seem, on the face of it, a somewhat questionable enterprise. The questions only increase when we find that pig bones are not altogether absent from (and sometimes exist in substantial quantities in) locales that come to be identified through other evidence as “Jewish,” while relatively low numbers of pig bones are not infrequently found in association with high incidences of figural art—including Greek and Roman mythological and highly erotic images—on oil lamps, mosaic floors, figurines, and the like. Moreover, if Jews and non‐Jews live in close proximity, or houses pass between Jewish and non‐Jewish owners or occupants over time, then something like abstention from pork and shellfish becomes still more invisible in the material record. Other textually prescribed customs, like the avoidance of boiling a kid in its mother’s milk or refusing to yoke together an ox and an ass, or, for that matter, circumcision of males, would, likewise, leave little to no traceable mark in the material remains of their practitioners. Incised or carved Jewish symbols, such as menorahs, are often used to identify a site or object as Jewish. Yet such symbols are fairly rare among domestic and commercial finds in most places, and where such images are found on household or commercial objects, they (like a scarcity of pig bones) tend to appear in the company of multiple items bearing images of Greek and Roman Gods, motifs, and mottoes as well (Levine 2012). It is a bit of a strain, then, to articulate by precisely what calculus we might determine that some textually mandated prohibitions (of pork or idolatrous images, for example) are at play and may serve as a material indication that a residential or commercial site is “Jewish” while, at the same time, other prohibitions appearing in the same prescriptive literature appear to have been largely disregarded at the same site. Notwithstanding such limitations, scholars studying material culture have produced an impressive body of knowledge about aspects of the everyday lives of common and elite Jews throughout the late‐ancient Mediterranean. The following is a small sampling of such knowledge.

Food and Drink As with the vast majority of inhabitants of the lands circling the Mediterranean in antiquity, the diets of ancient Jews would have consisted primarily of breads and porridges, oil, olives, and legumes. Fruits and vegetables, greens, herbs, eggs, and dairy products would have featured in fuller meals, while flesh of any sort would have been consumed infrequently by many people but frequently, even daily, by others, depending upon geographic location and socioeconomic class. Wine mixed with water and water alone were common beverages; beer appears to have been rare in most places. Like their non‐Jewish neighbors, most Jews would have acquired their foodstuffs through purchase or barter at permanent or periodic markets; as wages from an employer or sustenance from a master; prepared from restaurants or commercial kitchens (in urban areas); by raising and tending their own crops, fowl, and livestock; or by fishing and occasionally foraging, hunting, or trapping (in rural regions). Their means of daily food acquisition would have depended largely on


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socioeconomic and geographic location (Wilkins and Nadeau 2015) and very little on Jewishness. Although a great many texts from our period—from the New Testament and Josephus through the Mishnah, Tosefta, and Talmuds—tell of Judaic practices associated with the growing, slaughtering, procuring, preparing, sharing, and eating of food, very few such Judaic practices are visible in the material record (Rosenblum 2010; Magness 2011). If Jews in the late‐antique Mediterranean harvested, purchased, cooked, or consumed in a fashion that differed from that of their non‐Jewish neighbors, the differences are rarely materially evident. Some scholars have attempted to discern signs of a particularly Jewish practice of livestock butchery (ritual slaughter, perhaps) on the basis of saw marks on bone fragments (Grantham 2007), while others identify water installations in proximity to large‐scale olive and grape presses at sites in the far‐eastern Mediterranean as indicating ritual‐purity practices by Jews producing oil and wine for Jewish consumption (Adler 2007). A fascinating mosaic inscription in the narthex of a sixth‐century synagogue in Rehov lays out, in 29 lines of text, rabbinic rules for prohibiting or tithing various agricultural products depending upon region, season, and biblical sabbatical‐year cycles (Shinan 1996). Finally, some synagogues included dining rooms for communal feasting on holidays and other special occasions (Williams 1999; Levine 2000).

Clothing and Hairstyles As with food, so it is with clothing. Although texts of the period lead us to suspect that some Jews marked their Jewishness by wearing particular kinds of garments (bearing ritual fringes—tzitzit—for example) or utilizing distinctive headgear or hairdressing practices, non‐textual evidence provides no clear corroboration. Very few clothing fragments survive from antiquity and none bear knotted ritual fringes. These are, likewise, absent from images in synagogue mosaics. On the wall paintings of the synagogue at Dura Europos (which lie beyond the geographical scope of this essay but are worth citing here), some scholars perceive hints of tzitzit on some garments where others perceive merely decorative tassels (Shlezinger‐Katsman 2010). Tefillin or phylacteries (worn on the head and arm during prayer) are, likewise, absent from the slender pictorial record of Late Antiquity but are among surviving small finds from the Dead Sea sectarians and the Bar Kokhba Revolt. Other kinds of amulets have also been identified in Jewish contexts in Rome and elsewhere. Hairstyles and head‐covering practices are extremely gendered in Mediterranean antiquity, as they are in virtually all times and places, yet material evidence provides us with no distinctively Jewish or Jewishly gendered hairstyles or head coverings. There are no yarmulkes, no Jew’s caps, no side curls, no turbans, no kaffiyehs. The presence or absence of beards in mosaics and paintings often follows the Greek convention of distinguishing between mature men and youths—but not between Jews and Gentiles. Images of women in Jewish contexts depict them bareheaded or capped, short‐haired or long‐haired, veiled or unveiled—indistinguishable in this respect from images of women outside Jewish contexts. Almost all female images in Jewish contexts (namely, synagogues) are those of biblical or mythological characters. The utility of such images as indicators of contemporary

Do Jews Matter? Exploring Late-Ancient Mediterranean Jews


Figure 8.1  Donor (?) mosaic from the c. fifth century ce Huqoq synagogue. Huqoq Inscription and face, 29 June 2012. Source: Jodi Magness. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Huqoq_ Inscription_and_face.jpg. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

sartorial practices of Jews is quite limited, however, as artistic renderings may be imaginative, symbolic, or conventional rather than descriptive of dress current at the time. A few images from the Galilee, however, might depict styles of their era in identifiably Jewish settings. A mosaic (likely to be from the fifth or sixth century ce) that appears to commemorate two women donors in a synagogue in Huqoq depicts two bareheaded women, one with jaw‐length, wavy tresses and an earring; the other with an ornamented topknot (Britt 2013; Figure 8.1). Very similar bound and uncovered topknots appear on two of the naturalistic female figures representing the seasons (in this case, Nisan/Spring and Tishri/ Autumn) on the corner spandrels of the fifth century ce zodiac mosaic in the Sepphoris synagogue (Figure 8.2). Tevet/Winter in the same mosaic is wrapped in a warm, hooded garment, and Tammuz/Summer sports a perky little sunshade over her topknot. Similar coiffures, apparel, and adornments are familiar from images in non‐Jewish settings all over the ancient world, suggesting that there is nothing perceptibly “Jewish” about the ways female or male Jews dressed in most times and places throughout antiquity. Jews, then, “were not distinctive either by their looks or by their clothing. Jews of Antioch looked Antiochene, Jews of Alexandria looked Alexandrian, Jews of Ephesus looked Ephesian” (Cohen 1999, p. 34), and Jews of every other corner of the Mediterranean in Late Antiquity looked like the locals (or cosmopolitans) of the various locales that they inhabited.

Shelter I have already discussed the difficulties and disparities involved in assigning “Jewishness” to particular residential spaces or areas. That said, given that synagogue and Jewish mortuary remains indicate that Jews lived and died throughout the Mediterranean from before the Common Era through the end of Late Antiquity (and up to the present), we may reasonably surmise that they occupied the same kinds of houses—from palatial mansions to beggars’ hovels—as were common to each region in which they lived. Outside of Syria


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Figure 8.2  Spring (Nisan) from the Sepphoris synagogue mosaic floor (Wikicommons). Sepphoris, 29 March 2014. Source: Oren Rozen. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sepphoris_ (Tzippori)_290314_14.jpg. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Palaestina, we do not encounter archaeological evidence for Jewish districts or streets such as become familiar in the Middle Ages, much less of gated ghettos like those that arose during the European Renaissance. There might well have been areas in some ancient cities or rural regions where many Jews chose to live in close proximity or where a community was granted space to build. Alexandria in Egypt, according to evidence in Philo and Josephus, featured at least one such large Jewish sector, but no material remains of this survive. In any case, the residential limitations and restrictions characteristic of later eras ought not be read back uncritically into earlier ones. This same principle applies to common assumptions about gender division of living spaces. We have no material evidence to substantiate the existence of separate “men’s quarters” and “women’s quarters” in ancient Jewish households, nor of widespread domestic confinement of virgin daughters or wives—much less of all women—nor even of a gendered division by which men worked “outside the home” and women “within the home” (Baker 2002). Indeed, we have every reason to suspect that in regions of high agricultural subsistence and production, whole families worked the fields, while in large urban centers, many “domestic” tasks like fetching food and water, as well as bathing, often took place outside homes, and many workshops and retail shops were of a piece with or proximate to residences (Baker 2002). Again, this is not to imply that gendering of specialized skills and labor did not occur—no doubt it did—merely that the material record invites us to recognize that the gendered segmentation of living and working spaces familiar from other times and places, or from texts, does not necessarily “fit” the ancient evidence or account for the lived reality of most ancient Jews. According to Katharina Galor, a scholar of domestic architecture in ancient Palaestina, “in addition to small finds such as stone vessels, oil lamps with inscriptions or symbols …

Do Jews Matter? Exploring Late-Ancient Mediterranean Jews


as well as mezuzot [Hebrew scriptural quotations fastened to doorposts], among the sole indicators for identifying Jewish dwellers are miqva’ot,”—i.e., immersion baths used for Jewish purity rituals (Galor 2010, p. 420). Such baths have not been clearly identified in domestic or synagogue settings in Late Antiquity outside this region (although one has been proposed along with a synagogue on the Greek island of Delos and a spring‐fed immersion‐bath complex has been excavated in Ortygia in Byzantine‐era Syracuse). “One of the highest concentrations of stepped pools in Palestine has been uncovered on the Western Acropolis at Sepphoris,” reports Galor, who goes on to observe: The use of stepped pools in domestic structures … extends into the Byzantine period at Sepphoris and beyond at other Palestinian sites. Although archaeologists are no longer surprised to encounter stepped pools, their uses and functions have caused more interpretational controversies than any other architectural element … maximalists view most stepped pools as serving for ritual immersion, while minimalists [dispute] the pools’ religious significance. (Galor 2007, p. 201)

One such “minimalist” on this question is Seth Schwartz, who writes that: Over twenty small bathtubs were discovered in a residential district of the city [of Sepphoris], which excavators have identified, with what justification is unclear, as miqva’ot [ritual baths]. If this is correct, then the [Jewish] population of Sepphoris in approximately the third century was either radically diverse, consisting of a mixture of paganizers and the purity‐obsessed or mind‐bogglingly eclectic in their Jewish observance. While both options seem probable on other grounds, it is unclear why the bathtubs should not be considered simply bathtubs. (Schwartz 2001, p. 144)

A final, representative voice on this question of household purity rituals in the daily lives of some late‐ancient Jews comes from Stuart Miller. A scholar of what Galor would call the “maximalist” school, Miller offers a startlingly refreshing suggestion: “a stepped pool at Sepphoris or elsewhere only functioned as a miqveh when the person immersing did so expressly for ritual purification. Stepped pools undoubtedly continued to be used for other purposes.” These pools or tubs could be used for Jewish “ritual bathing regardless of their original or even primary purpose” (Miller 2007, p. 218). Miller thus offers the simple and sensible proposition that objects (such as houses and bathtubs) are not Jewish in and of themselves, but perhaps they are Jewish—even quintessentially Jewish—when, insofar as, and so long as, an individual or community intends them to serve expressly as such.

Work There are no trades or professions associated specifically with Jews in Late Antiquity (Cohen 1999). Jews were among those who worked at agriculture (see Mandsager, Chapter 30) and artisanry; they were among the aristocracy and the peasantry; they were small landholders, servants, wet nurses, and beggars, merchants, manufacturers, and shopkeepers, teachers and tutors, slaveholders, slaves, and freed‐persons (Hezser 2005), local and imperial soldiers, and bureaucrats. Most of our material evidence for tradespeople and officeholders in Jewish contexts comes from memorial or benefaction inscriptions. In the Roman Jewish catacombs, for example, we find a butcher, a merchant, and a “zographos”


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or “painter of living things” (Williams 1999), and at the necropolis of Beth She’arim we find a cloth dyer, a cloth seller, perfume sellers, a banker, a physician, a goldsmith, and an undertaker (Schwabe and Lifshitz 1974). From inscriptions at Sardis we find among donors to the synagogue three goldsmiths (two of whom are also city councilors), a marble sculptor, the owner of a paint‐and‐dye shop and two workers from the shop, the owner of a glass shop, some mosaic artisans, and several other persons holding military and/or civil‐administration titles (Trebilco 1991). Jews appear as civil and municipal officials or patrons in many other locales in Late Antiquity, including in Aphrodisias, Naples, and Venosa (Trebilco 1991; Rutgers 2006). An inscription on the Sardis synagogue’s floor commemorates a “sophodidaskalos,” or “teacher of wisdom” (Williams 1999; Trebilco 1991), while a single surviving inscription on a doorframe from the Golan points to a (second‐to‐third‐century) “Bet‐Midrash of the Rabbi,” one “Eliezar ha‐Qappar” (Urman 1972) (see Ahuvia, Chapter  3). Jews, as well as Christians, appear to have owned and operated workshops, retail shops, and restaurants (some, perhaps, with upstairs living quarters) in side‐by‐side establishments lining one wall of the great synagogue‐and‐gymnasium/bath complex in Sardis from about the late fourth century ce until the city was destroyed in the seventh century (Crawford 1999). Notwithstanding some differences in beliefs and filial loyalties, Jews, Christians, and other Greco‐Roman peoples all shared in common the needs of everyday life and the variety of means for satisfying those. All drew from and contributed to local, regional, and empire‐wide networks of goods and services and participated—in greater and lesser measure—in the many forms of cultural expression (language, architecture, clothing, hairstyles, gestures, bearing, and so forth) that enable people to recognize and interact with one another in different societies. In this regard, the many denizens of the late‐ancient Mediterranean tended to be far more similar than they were different from one another (Crawford 1999; Rutgers 2000, 2006; Schwartz 2001; Trebilco 1991).

Synagogues and Burials Remains of synagogues and burials reveal a great deal about the collective ritual practices—and something of the variety of beliefs—of ancient Jews. Identification of these structures, although not always straightforward, is rarely as complicated a matter as determining the Jewishness of more prosaic finds. This is because some time around the late third or fourth century of the Common Era, particular “symbolic vocabularies” that help to identify and distinguish among structures peculiar to each respective community (synagogues, churches, temples, and burial places) developed and became widespread among Jews, Christians, and, to some extent, other Greco‐Roman communities (Levine 2012; Schwartz 2001). Although identification is by no means an exact science nor always possible, there are many instances in which the probability of accuracy is sufficiently high that we may sketch general—even somewhat nuanced—­ pictures of Jewish synagogue and burial practices throughout the ­ late‐antique Mediterranean. Whereas the six‐pointed star became a Jewish symbol only much later, the menorah, in particular, emerged as the primary, virtually universal symbolic motif signifying

Do Jews Matter? Exploring Late-Ancient Mediterranean Jews


Jewishness in Late Antiquity. (This symbol was also used by the closely related, but much smaller, community of Samaritans, rendering positive Jewish identification a sometimes complicated matter.) Versions of this seven‐branched candelabrum are found on epitaphs from Spain and Gaul to the Roman Jewish catacombs and the Ostia synagogue in Italy; to similar remains in North Africa, Egypt, Asia Minor, Greece, and northward; and to the burial chambers of Beth She’arim and the synagogues that filled Syria Palaestina. As the Christian cross became ubiquitous throughout the Christianizing empire, menorahs also began to appear, in the same era, on “mosaic floors, wall paintings, capitals, columns, ashlar stones, marble blocks, basins, household objects, gold glass, lamps, sarcophagi, and tomb plaques” (Levine 2012, pp. 341–342). Prior to this, such distinctive symbols of personal and group identity had played a minimal role in decorative art and ornamentation. In more elaborate versions, the menorah is often accompanied by images of other symbolic objects such as a temple gate or Torah ark, lulavs and etrogs (ritual objects associated with the festival of Sukkot), incense shovels (squarish, handled objects used for burning incense), and shofars (ram’s horns). Lions and birds are common elements as well, albeit not as distinctive as the others (see Figures 8.3 and 8.4). At the same time that these figural elements help in identifying and illuminating Jewish spaces and practices, they also lead to fascinating questions and interpretive quandaries of their own. As noted above, we cannot know with any certainty the meaning ascribed to these various associated symbols in any particular time, place, or instance, and nor may we assume that they held the same meaning in one context as in another, for one person as for another. Moreover, because these symbols often appear in synagogues and burials alongside conventionally Greco‐Roman images and elements, assertions about meanings, beliefs, and representations based on these materials can vary widely and involve a substantial degree of speculation on the part of scholars. What, for example, are we to make of the fact that several synagogues in the far‐eastern Mediterranean feature mosaic floors with zodiac wheels and a Sun God (Sol Invictus) centered in each (e.g., as in Figure 8.3)? Did the Jews in these synagogues (some of them? all of them?) believe in astrology or believe that Sol Invictus was an apt and appropriate representation of God or heaven? Or were these figures meant (by whom?) to signify something else or something more in this Jewish ritual setting? Would the meanings associated with these images have remained stable from one decade to the next or from one person to the next? Likewise, what does it signify when sarcophagi bearing images of Leda and the Swan or Nikes or battling Amazons are unearthed in burial halls populated by rabbinic families? And how did menorahs come to accompany epitaphs invoking Fate or Hades instead of the biblical God of the Israelites? Did those who commissioned these inscriptions believe in Fate rather than in (or in addition to) biblical promises? Did stock phrases about Fate or Hades hold different meanings in a Jewish context than in a non‐Jewish context, or do shared phrases point to beliefs and sentiments held in common among Jews and non‐Jews? Bearing in mind the inevitable uncertainties and ultimately irreducible mysteries surrounding much of this evidence—and the likelihood of regional and temporal variations in customary practice—there remains a good deal that may be said about Jews and Jewishness in Late Antiquity on the basis of these intriguing finds. Again, a small sampling follows.


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Figure 8.3  Sixth century ce Beit Alpha synagogue mosaic floor. Source: https://commons. wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Beit_Alfa_Synagogue_Mosaic.jpg

Do Jews Matter? Exploring Late-Ancient Mediterranean Jews


Figure 8.4  Gold glass from Rome, c. fourth century ce. Source: The Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

Synagogues Evidence exists for hundreds of synagogues—most Jewish, some Samaritan—in every corner of the Greco‐Roman world from the late third and fourth centuries ce onward (Rutgers 1996; Levine 2000) (see also Kattan Gribetz, Chapter 28 and Lieber, Chapter 29). Monumental synagogues from Late Antiquity have been discovered in the very centers of large cities such as Sardis in Asia Minor (where the synagogue forms one side of the municipal gymnasium‐and‐bath complex), Apamaea in Syria, Stobi in Macedonia, and Philippopolis (now Plovdiv in Bulgaria). Many more remains of late‐ancient synagogues have been uncovered throughout Asia Minor, North Africa, Spain, Italy, Greece, Hungary, and Syria Palaestina—especially in the Galilee and Golan, where estimates of identified sites can number over one hundred and substantial synagogues occupied the heart or high point of many a town or village (Rutgers 1996; Hachlili 1996; Levine 2000). “In sixth‐ century Italy, centrally‐located synagogues and the Jewish communities that worshipped in them were still a common sight,” according to Leonard Rutgers (Rutgers 2006, p.  506). The same might be said of sixth-century North Africa, seventh-century Asia Minor, and the Golan and Galilee in the eighth century (Levine 2000). Many late‐ancient synagogues may be found in close proximity to Greco‐Roman temples or Christian churches (Crawford 1999; Meyers and White 1989; Rutgers 2006). Inscriptions gathered from a variety of synagogues suggest that they tended to serve multiple functions. Besides being “holy places” of worship, some, at least, also provided


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places for study, teaching, and instruction; community business meetings; festal dining; and legal transactions, oaths, and vows (Levine 2000; Williams 1999) (see Lieber, Chapter 29). According to Lee Levine, “No two synagogues were identical in their art, plans, architecture, or inscriptions. One community employed a full range of figural representation … another featured only animals, birds, and fish … still others were completely devoid of figural art” (Levine 2012, p. 240). Toward the end of Late Antiquity, a discernible turn toward aniconism is perceptible in synagogue decoration as many synagogues built or renovated from the late sixth century onward lack the figural art that graced many earlier structures. In some synagogues, existing images were selectively removed or defaced. In the synagogue at Hammat Tiberias, the finely wrought mosaic floor bearing images of a zodiac, Sol Invictus, Torah ark or temple facade, menorahs, ritual objects, rampant lions, and multiple inscriptions was summarily covered over by another floor of simple geometrics (Levine 2012). Interestingly, the opposite trend is evident in Christian church decoration, with which synagogue art shares numerous attributes: “whereas aniconic designs were much more the rule in earlier churches, figural art flourished by the sixth and seventh century” (Levine 2012, p. 231). Scores of epitaphs and donor inscriptions record synagogue titles borne by various members: Father or Mother of the Synagogue (pater or mater and, in one case, “pateressa” or “Fatheress”), Leader of the Elders (gerousiarch), Leader (archon or archegissa), Secretary (grammateus); Elder (presbyter, presbytera/presbyteressa/presbyte rissa), and Head of the Synagogue (archisynagogos or archisynagogissa) (Brooten 1982; van der Horst 1991; Williams 1999). These titles, most of which are borne by both men and women, some by children, are found throughout the Mediterranean and throughout Late Antiquity from before the Common Era to several centuries into it. The titles Archon, Archisynagogos, and Mother/Father of the Synagogue (and ­perhaps others) appear to indicate patronage and benefaction by elite local families; further functions associated with these titles remain obscure. The title Rabbi appears in a synagogue inscription only as an honorific associated with a donation. There is no surviving epigraphic evidence indicating a functional role for rabbis in late‐ancient synagogues (Williams 1999). Benefactors, patrons, and others intimately involved in synagogue affairs need not all have identified as Jews. Scholars disagree, for example, whether or not Julia Severa or Tation of Phocea—two women who built or endowed synagogues in Asia Minor—were likely to have identified as Jews. Another benefactor, Capitolina, identifies herself as “­ worthy and a the ̄osebes,”—a “God worshipper” or “God fearer”—and still another, Veturia Paulla (also known as Sara), “Mother” of two synagogues in Rome, names herself a “proselyte” (Kraemer 1992; Levine 2000; Williams 1999). Rufina of Smyrna, an archisynagogos, explicitly identifies herself as a Jew (Ioudaia)—an identification that, ironically, some scholars suspect indicates that the person so identified was not raised a Jew but later became one (Kraemer 1992). Inscriptional evidence strongly suggests that, in some times and places, theosebeis, ̄ ­gentile “God worshippers,” existed in substantial numbers and may have been formally counted as adherents within Jewish communities and their institutions. An inscription from thirdcentury ce Aphrodisias lists over 50 such persons. Six appear in inscriptions in the Sardis

Do Jews Matter? Exploring Late-Ancient Mediterranean Jews


s­ynagogue, and Capitolina (mentioned above) helped to furnish a synagogue in Caria (Reynolds and Tannenbaum 1987; Trebilco 1991; Levine 2000). Others appear elsewhere. There is no surviving material evidence that such non‐Jewish adherents or the newly Jewish were confined to special or restricted areas within or outside synagogues (unlike catechumens or non‐initiates in other ritual traditions). Similarly, no material evidence survives to indicate that women and men were segregated in synagogues; indeed, Tation’s benefaction was honored with “a gold crown and the privilege of sitting in the seat of honor” within the synagogue she had built. Of those synagogues where evidence of an upper gallery is extant or suspected, none bears signification that the space was reserved for women (Brooten 1982; Levine 2000).

Burials As with synagogues, evidence for Jewish burials is found throughout the length and breadth of the ancient Mediterranean, with particularly sizable findings among the catacombs in Rome and necropoleis in Syria Palaestina—each yielding several hundred epitaphs. Although burials identified as Jewish are found in some places intermixed with Christian or Pagan burials (Noy 1993), the major gravesites of Jews in Rome and Syria Palaestina appear to have housed exclusively or predominantly Jewish burials (Rutgers 2000; van der Horst 1991). The necropolis of Beth She’arim houses a number of rabbinic families among its hundreds of graves. Jewish memorial inscriptions (like synagogue inscriptions) most often appear in koine Greek. Other local languages are also sometimes found. Vulgar Latin, for example, appears in later Roman epitaphs and Hebrew/Aramaic at Beth She’arim, Jerusalem, and elsewhere in Palaestina. Striking variations exist, however, such as the practice of Jews in Venosa, Italy, who used Hebrew phrasing, Greek written in Hebrew letters, or both Hebrew and Latin in composing their epitaphs (Rutgers 2000, 2006) (see also Yadin‐ Israel, Chapter 4). Names inscribed on burials of Jews are also often indistinguishable from those of non‐Jews in the same period and locale although these are also, at times, supplemented by biblical and other traditionally “Semitic” names (Rutgers 2006; Schwabe and Lifshitz 1974). Tombs, when decorated at all, draw from the same standard iconographic repertoire found throughout the Mediterranean in Late Antiquity. These feature flowers, garlands, acanthus, birds, animals, fruits, geometrics, columns, arches, and so on, with the important (and often determinative) addition of menorahs, Torah shrines or temple facades, and the Jewish ritual objects enumerated above. Jewish epitaphs from both east and west suggest a broad diversity of beliefs and attitudes regarding individual persistence after death. They are, however, seldom clear about particulars of belief. The majority of epitaphs from Jewish burials state merely the name, perhaps familial relation, age, and/or titles of the deceased and sometimes an epithet like “pious” or “lover of the people” or a charge to “rest in peace” (Rutgers 2006; Schwab and Lifshitz 1974; van der Horst 1991). Many simply announce that “This grave/burial place belongs to so‐and‐so,” or “Here lies so‐and‐so”—giving only indication of ­ownership or disposition of earthly remains without gesturing toward continuance in an afterlife. Rarely, as in a few epitaphs at Beth She’arim, there are explicit wishes for


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­ thanatos bios—immortal life—or reference to “He who promised to resurrect the dead” a (this latter most often appears in threats of divine judgment upon any who might disturb the grave). More frequent at Beth She’arim is the charge to “Take courage! No one is immortal!” (athanatos) or the more generic “For good!” or “Be good!” or “May your fate be good/happy!” (eumoiros or makarios) (Schwab and Lifshitz 1974; van der Horst 1991). The Roman Jewish epitaphs seem all but silent on the matter of afterlife, with the bulk being “decidedly current‐world in orientation—inscriptions that proudly address those who remained behind instead of suggesting some kind of consolation for those who had departed” (Rutgers 2006, p. 497). “Peace upon Israel” and “remembered for good” are common in many places. An inscription memorializing three siblings (“Justus 30 years, Matrona 20 years, and Dulciorella 9 years”) from Narbonne in Gaul dates to the end of the seventh century and combines several elements common to many Jewish burials: it is inscribed with a menorah; it provides names, ages, and familial identifications of the deceased; and it includes the phrases “rest in peace” and “remembered for good” (requiescunt in pace benememori) in Latin and the phrase “Peace be upon Israel” in Hebrew (Noy 1993).

How Does the Matter of Late‐Ancient Jews Matter? The period covered by this broad sketch of ancient Mediterranean Jewish life (and death) begins with a catastrophic event: the c. 70 ce destruction by Rome of the great Jerusalem Temple that had served as a major cultic center for the better part of a millennium. The period ends with much of the Mediterranean newly conquered by a rising Islamic Empire and the remainder persisting under the auspices of imperial Orthodox Christianity. This span of several centuries further encompasses the destruction of property and slaughter of Jews associated with widespread riots in Egypt, Cyprus, and Cyrenaica c. 115–117 ce and with the messianic Bar Kokhba uprising c. 135 ce that ended with Palaestina replacing the former Judaea. Further devastating destruction of many cities, towns, and villages of the eastern Mediterranean from Greece and Asia Minor through Syria Palaestina, Egypt, and beyond was wrought by powerful earthquakes and their resultant tsunamis in 363 and 365 ce. Finally, even greater seismic shifts unfolded through the growing Christianization of the Roman and Byzantine Empires with their institution of state Christianity and promulgation of a succession of increasingly restrictive imperial and canon laws aimed at subjugating, marginalizing, and often disenfranchising all Jews and other non‐Christians within their reach. Material culture provides evidence for these events and dynamics, as well as for smaller, more localized tragedies and triumphs throughout this era. Such evidence, coupled with a vast body of polemical and triumphalist Christian literature, on the one hand, and a somewhat insular body of rabbinic literature, on the other, can easily lead to the rather “lachrymose” impression (Baron 1928) that Jews of Late Antiquity lived a circumscribed existence—as downtrodden men and separated, silenced women—under a fairly constant state of siege. Such a picture and accompanying narrative have proven durable and useful to a variety of causes—anti‐Jewish, Jewish‐nationalist, and missionary among them— throughout modern times, up to our own day and age.

Do Jews Matter? Exploring Late-Ancient Mediterranean Jews


Historical narratives are powerful tools for constructing and reinforcing identities, for authorizing traditions and innovations, and for creating the frameworks through which we perceive and understand our world and imagine future possibilities within it. It matters how we tell history. The matter of ancient Jews—their surviving material culture—provides us further glimpses into lives, communities, and practices otherwise unknown to us from textual sources. These glimpses invite us to question and complicate what we think we know—for example, about the inevitable separation of (and antagonism between) Jews and Gentiles, about “the place of women,” the authority or function of rabbis, conformity to biblical (or pharisaic or talmudic) laws, belief or disbelief in God and the afterlife, abhorrence of “graven images,” and so on—and also to recognize that familiar paradigms and dualisms (us/them, insider/outsider, assimilation/resistance, Judaism/Hellenism) do not always provide helpful or adequate frameworks for describing the lives and practices reflected in our finds. “Greco‐Roman civilization became an enabler which served to articulate or universalize non‐Greek and non‐Roman local traditions,” including Jewish ones, observes Rutgers. “Jews and non‐Jews apparently agreed that there was nothing mutually exclusive about being Jewish on the one hand and being part of late Roman society on the other” (Rutgers 2000, pp. 263–264). Likewise, although it gave rise to new prejudices and (sometimes deadly) threats, Christianization of the Mediterranean seems also to have gone hand‐in‐ hand with the emergence of new forms of Jewish collective self‐expression and organization quite apparent in the material record. In the words of Seth Schwartz, “the Jewish culture that emerged in late antiquity was … distinctively late antique—a product of the same political, social, and economic forces that produced the no less distinctive Christian culture of late antiquity” (Schwartz 2001, p. 189). A number of scholars have suggested that Christianization itself served, in part, as a kind of spur or stimulus to the Jewish creativity, transformation, and flourishing visible in the veritable explosion of synagogues in the fourth through seventh centuries of the Common Era (Levine 2000, 2012; Schwartz 2001). Again, Rutgers’s conclusions are instructive: “throughout antiquity, and long after Christianity had begun to sink its roots into late Roman society, the Jews of Italy were not being reduced to a fringe position. Instead, they continued to prosper or live their lives as usual” (Rutgers 2006, p. 504). Material evidence from multiple sites around the vast Mediterranean Sea reveals that the Jews of Italy were far from unique in this regard. The collective, monumental architecture (synagogues and gravesites) left behind by ancient Jews demonstrates that they worshipped together and buried their dead together in structures that were both distinctively Jewish and part and parcel of the shared local, regional, and empire‐wide cultures of which they were often an integral part. These monumental artefacts also reveal that Jews came to inhabit every corner of the ancient Mediterranean world. They confirm that Jews were, in fact, there in locales where residential buildings and domestic small finds yield no definitively or distinctively Jewish objects. This fact suggests, on the one hand, that, in most aspects of their daily lives, Jews were largely indistinguishable from their non‐Jewish neighbors. On the other hand, it serves to remind us that many practices that we identify as particularly “Jewish”—such as circumcision, Sabbath rest, kashrut, and holidays—are unlikely to leave behind any persistent manifestations in the everyday material landscape. Although there will always be much that we


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do not and cannot know about Jews and Jewishness in Late Antiquity, there nonetheless remains a great deal that we can see and surmise on the basis of surviving material culture, if only we keep our eyes and minds open to the possibilities.

REFERENCES Adler, Yonatan (2007). The observance of ritual purity in agricultural industry during the Second Temple and Mishnah periods. Yehuda Feliks memorial volume. Jerusalem and Eretz‐Israel 4–5: 59–83 [Hebrew]. Baker, Cynthia (2002). Rebuilding the House of Israel: Architectures of Gender in Jewish Antiquity. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Baron, Salo W. (1928). Ghetto and emancipation: Shall we revise the traditional view? Menorah Journal 14. Cohen, Shaye (1999). The Beginnings of Jewishness: Boundaries, Varieties, Uncertainties. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Britt, Karen (2013). The Huqoq synagogue mosaics, at Bible History Daily (01/02/2013). http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical‐artifacts/artifacts‐and‐the‐bible/ the‐huqoq‐synagogue‐mosaics/. Brooten, Bernadette J. (1982). Women Leaders in the Ancient Synagogue. Chico: Scholars Press. Crawford, John S. (1999). Jews, Christians, and Polytheists in late‐antique Sardis. In: Jews, Christians, and Polytheists in the Ancient Synagogue: Cultural Interaction During the Greco‐Roman Period (ed. Steven Fine), 190–200. New York: Routledge. Feldman, Louis H. (1993). Jew and Gentile in the Ancient World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Galor, Katharina (2007). The stepped water installations of the Sepphoris Acropolis. In: The Archeology of Difference: Gender, Ethnicity, Class and the “Other” in Antiquity: Studies in Honor of Eric M. Meyers (eds. Douglas R. Edwards and C. Thomas McCollough), 201–213. Boston, MA: American Schools of Oriental Research. Galor, Katharina (2010). Domestic architecture. In: The Oxford Handbook to Daily Life in Roman Palestine (ed. Catherine Hezser), 420–439. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Graetz, Heinrich (1898). History of the Jews. New York: Jewish Publication Society of America. Grantham, Bill (2007). The butchers of Sepphoris: archaeological evidence of ethnic variability. In: The Archaeology of Difference: Gender, Ethnicity, Class and the “Other” in Antiquity: Studies in Honor of Eric M. Meyers (eds. Douglas R. Edwards and C. Thomas McCollough), 279–289. Boston, MA: American Schools of Oriental Research. Gruen, Erich S. (2004). Diaspora: Jews amidst Greeks and Romans. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Hachlili, Rachel (1996). Synagogues in the Land of Israel: the art and architecture of late antique synagogues. In: Sacred Realm: The Emergence of the Synagogue in the Ancient World (ed. Steven Fine), 96–129. New York: Oxford University Press. Hezser, Catherine (2005). Jewish Slavery in Antiquity. New York: Oxford University Press.

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Kraemer, Ross (1992). Her Share of the Blessings: Women’s Religions Among Pagan, Jews, and Christians in the Greco‐Roman World. New York: Oxford University Press. Levine, Lee (2000). The Ancient Synagogue: The First Thousand Years. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Levine, Lee (2012). Visual Judaism in Late Antiquity: Historical Contexts of Jewish Art. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Magness, Jodi (2011). Stone and Dung, Oil and Spit: Jewish Daily Life in the Time of Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. Meyers, Eric M. and White, L. Michael (1989). Jews and Christians in a Roman world. Archaeology 42 (2): 26–33. Miller, Stuart (2007). Stepped pools and the non‐existent monolithic ‘Miqveh.’ In: The Archaeology of Difference: Gender, Ethnicity, Class and the “Other” in Antiquity: Studies in Honor of Eric M. Meyers (eds. Douglas R. Edwards and C. Thomas McCollough), 215–234. Boston, MA: American Schools of Oriental Research. Noy, David (1993). Jewish Inscriptions of Western Europe: Volume I: Italy (Excluding the City of Rome), Spain and Gaul. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Reynolds, Joyce and Tannenbaum, Robert (1987). Jews and Godfearers at Aphrodisias. Cambridge: Cambridge Philological Society. Rosenblum, Joshua (2010). Food and Identity in Early Rabbinic Judaism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Rutgers, Leonard V. (1996). Diaspora synagogues: synagogue archaeology in the Greco‐ Roman world. In: Sacred Realm: The Emergence of the Synagogue in the Ancient World (ed. Steven Fine), 67–95. New York: Oxford University Press. Rutgers, Leonard V. (2000). The Jews in Late Ancient Rome: Evidence of Cultural Interaction in the Roman Diaspora. Leiden: Brill. Rutgers, Leonard V. (2006). The Diaspora: The Jews of Italy, c. 235–638. In: The Cambridge History of Judaism, Volume 4: The Late Roman‐Rabbinic Period (ed. Steven T. Katz), 492–508. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Schwabe, Moshe and Lifshitz, Baruch (1974). Beth She’arim: Volume II: The Greek Inscriptions. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. Schwartz, Seth (2001). Imperialism and Jewish Society: 200 B.C.E. to 640 C.E. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Shinan, Avigdor (1996). Synagogues in the Land of Israel: the literature of the ancient synagogue and synagogue archaeology. In: Sacred Realm: The Emergence of the Synagogue in the Ancient World (ed. Steven Fine), 130–152. New York: Oxford University Press. Shlezinger‐Katsman, Dafna (2010). Clothing. In: The Oxford Handbook of Daily Life in Roman Palestine (ed. Catherine Hezser), 362–381. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Smallwood, Mary E. (1981). The Jews under Roman Rule. Leiden: Brill. Trebilco, Paul R. (1991). Jewish Communities in Asia Minor. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Urman, Dan (1972). Jewish inscriptions from Dabbura in the Golan. Israel Exploration Journal 22 (1): 16–23. van der Horst, Pieter W. (1991). Ancient Jewish Epitaphs: An Introductory Survey of a Millenium of Jewish Funerary Epigraphy (300 BCE–700 CE). Kampen: Kok Pharos Publishing.


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Weiss, Ze’ev and Netzer, Ehud (1996). Promise and Redemption: A Synagogue Mosaic from Sepphoris. Jerusalem: The Israel Museum. Wilkins, John and Nadeau, Robin (eds.) (2015). A Companion to Food in the Ancient World. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Blackwell. Williams, Margaret (1999). The contribution of Jewish inscriptions to the study of Judaism. In: The Cambridge History of Judaism, vol. III (eds. William Horbury, W.D. Davies, and John Sturdy), 75–93. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Material Culture of the Jews of Sasanian Mesopotamia Jason Sion Mokhtarian

Introduction The Babylonian Talmud has always been the most important literary documentation for the academic study of the Jews who resided in the Sasanian Empire (224–651 ce), most prominently in Babylonia. This Talmud (for the purposes of this essay “the Talmud” refers to the Babylonian Talmud only) is a vast corpus of laws and narratives that includes traditions attributed to hundreds of Babylonian rabbis in successive generations who are typically associated with rabbinic academies, such as those in Pumbedita and Nehardea. Although full of digressions, the Talmud’s basic structure is a line‐by‐line or even word‐ by‐word commentary on the Mishnah, an earlier rabbinic synthesis of biblical laws and rituals composed in Hebrew by the Tannaim and edited around 220 ce in Palestine. Unfortunately, for historians who are interested in the social life of the Jews of late antique Babylonia, the Talmud is a challenging text to use for several reasons. First off, the Talmud is at core an exegetical work—meaning that it is focused on probing the gaps, incongruities, or statements in the Mishnah—and is therefore not necessarily reflective of what the rabbis were practicing in their everyday lives outside their study houses on the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Talmudic sources are, moreover, difficult to date with precision due to their stratified nature, both in terms of provenance (Palestine versus Babylonia) and periods and generations of rabbis (tannaitic, amoraic, stammaitic), as well as to the uncertainty surrounding the reliability of attributions. Making the Talmud even more historically evasive is the fact that the rabbis were typically uninterested in recording events as they actually transpired; for instance, talmudic stories, called aggada (pl. aggadot), tend to be fictionalized accounts of events that may or may not have a historical kernel of truth behind them (Gafni 2007, 2010). It is, in the end, hard to discern which laws or practices A Companion to Late Ancient Jews and Judaism: Third Century bce to Seventh Century ce, First Edition. Edited by Naomi Koltun-Fromm and Gwynn Kessler. © 2020 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published 2020 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


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discussed in the Talmud were actually followed and institutionalized by the rabbis, let alone among non‐rabbinic Jews, who may or may not have paid heed to rabbinic law and culture. The Talmud thus conforms to the well‐attested pattern in Sasanian religious ­culture that Albert de Jong aptly calls the “rhetoric of insularity” whereby the religious communities “present a vision” of themselves “as being self‐contained and autonomous” (de Jong 2004, p. 58). For all these reasons, using talmudic sources to write a social ­history of Babylonian Jewry is a complicated task. In the past two decades there has been a reorientation among some talmudists interested in the historical context of the Babylonian Talmud. Instead of attempting to write Jewish history on the basis of talmudic texts alone, this subfield of scholars, known as ‘Irano‐Talmudists,’ contextualizes the Talmud and its rabbis from within a wider Sasanian orbit, especially vis‐à‐vis Middle Persian Zoroastrian literature (see Elman 2004; Bakhos and Shayegan 2010; Herman 2012a; Secunda 2013; Mokhtarian 2015; Kiel 2016). It is by now taken for granted that Sasanian Mesopotamia and its surrounding areas were full of Aramaic‐speaking religious communities, including Jews, Syriac‐speaking Christians, and Mandaeans, alongside Armenian Christians and Iranian Zoroastrians who represented the ruling class and government administrators. These communities were in contact with one another in various ways that scholars can trace (Elman 2007a, pp.166–68; Morony 1984, pp. 169–506). Thus, in order to appreciate the complex relationship between rabbinic culture, on the one hand, and the non‐rabbinic (Jewish) or non‐Jewish environment, on the other, scholars must research the other literatures and cultures of the time. An examination of relevant secondary and primary works in Sasanian studies, widely construed, enriches research on Babylonian Jewish history and culture. This reorientation in Babylonian talmudic studies toward the Sasanian context is paralleled by another important transition in Jewish Studies toward an emphasis on materiality as a central component of constructing Jewish history. Archaeology, numismatics, epigraphy, paleography, and art history: these are among the disciplines that are seen as counterbalancing the historian’s reliance on ahistorical texts. Scholars of ancient Judaism increasingly emphasize these approaches toward the materiality of their subjects, bridging the gap between, for example, talmudic studies and cognate disciplines (see Geller 2015). As this essay demonstrates, the non‐rabbinic material relics from Jewish Babylonia, though limited in number and scope, reveal a different perspective than does the Babylonian Talmud regarding the interactions between Jews and non‐Jews—namely, one whereby Jews were participants in a broader Sasanian material culture shared among populations in Mesopotamia and beyond. In this essay I argue that there is in fact a substantial Sasanian material record, including both Jewish and non‐Jewish artefacts that collectively help to illuminate the broader sociocultural environment of the Jews of Mesopotamia (see Figure 9.1). The material sources from the Sasanian empire—including palace structures, imperial inscriptions, silver vessels, administrative and personal seals and bullae, coins, magical amulets, and the like—are of high value to the study of Sasanian history. Even though the vast majority of Sasanian materials do not mention the Jews specifically, they nevertheless serve as relevant, indirect information for researching Babylonian Jewish materiality in context. The rest of this essay surveys Jewish material culture from the Sasanian world, a topic that I divide into three sections: the materiality of the Sasanian environment, the Aramaic incantation bowls, and the Jewish‐Sasanian seals.

Material Culture of the Jews of Sasanian Mesopotamia

Figure 9.1  Canals and archaeological sites in Mesopotamia (Simpson 2015, p. 19).



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Materiality of the Sasanian Environment The Jews of Sasanian Babylonia lived in and around the cities and suburbs on the banks of the fertile Tigris and Euphrates rivers as both rural peasants and urban elite. For the Sasanian Empire, the region of Mesopotamia—a mix of old and new cities, peoples, and ­cultures— was foundational in political and military spheres of governance (Simpson 2015, p. 6).1 The Sasanian capital of Ctesiphon, the location of the Persian kings’ winter home, was located on the east bank of the Tigris across the river from the Hellenistic city of Seleucia. This urban environment created a lively economic climate, including agricultural products. The extraordinary maze of canals connecting the conglomeration of cities and countryside up and down the rivers accelerated the trade of arts and crafts (Simpson 2015, p. 6). Motifs of the royal hunt and animal prey are common in many Sasanian remains. Other Sasanian valuables, such as silver hunting plates, like the one housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art with an image of King Yazdegird I “piercing a stag with a crescent‐tipped spear,” were often sent by the monarchy to important people in and outside Iran (Walker 2007, p. 796; for a more comprehensive survey, see especially Harper 1981). Valuable art depicting royal authority, the production of which were at times under the control of the Sasanian monarchy, have been discovered in eastern Iran and beyond, illustrating the reach of the imperial message not only to its own citizens but also across Asia. More directly connected to local everyday Jews and Christians in Mesopotamia are extant potsherds excavated from northern Mesopotamia from the sixth and seventh centuries ce when there was a rise in Christian population. Stags, rams, horsemen as well as Zoroastrian or overtly Christian images figure throughout this collection (Simpson 2013, pp. 109–110 and Figure 12 on pp. 115–117). Still, as is the case with much of the material record of Jews and Christians from the Sasanian sphere, it is difficult to discern overtly religious imagery among the material remains of everyday life of artisans and tradesman and local householders (Simpson 2013, p. 105) (see Ahuvia, Chapter  3 and Baker, Chapter 8). Ctesiphon was also home to one of two mints in the Sasanian Empire where coins were struck. As far as I know, there are no coins with Jewish symbols and one should assume that Jews used Sasanian coins that depicted the bust of one of thirty‐two kings on the front and a fire altar on the reverse (see Schindel 2005 for a list). The Sasanians maintained authority with respect to the coinage used in their political realm (Schindel 2005). Although the study of coins may seem tedious and narrow, it is in fact the ­collections—11,000 alone being edited for publication by the multivolume publication Sylloge Nummorum Sasanidorum (ed. by Alram and Gyselen 2003)—that provides essential corroborating data about the royal images found on other Sasanian materials such as rock reliefs and silver vessels. If the Jews did use these coins in everyday life, it is fair to assume that they had some awareness of the names of the Persian kings and the importance of fire altars, such as this one struck in Ctesiphon for Ardashir I, the founder of the Sasanian empire (see Figure 9.2). Alongside the presence of the imperial government, Mesopotamia was densely populated with Aramaic‐speaking communities. As Yaakov Elman demonstrates, the urban atmosphere of Maḥoza, a suburb outside of Ctesiphon established by Ardashir I (Herman 2012a, p. 156), impacted the economic prosperity, legal opinions, and general lifestyle of

Material Culture of the Jews of Sasanian Mesopotamia


Figure 9.2  Sasanian coins of Ardashir, from Ctesiphon. Source: Kunsthistorisches Mu­seum, Vienna.

influential rabbis who resided there, including the fourth‐generation Amora Rava and his disciple Rav Naḥman (see Elman 2010b, 2007a, pp. 168–175, 2007b, p. 84). Elman’s research highlights Persian‐Zoroastrian influences on urbanized rabbis in the realm of law, such as the laws of temporary marriages (Elman 2010a, p. 171, 2010b). Highlighting commercial habits, Elman describes how the Jews of Maḥoza traveled across a bridge spanning the Tigris to Ctesiphon in order to shop at the bazaars and do other routine errands, and that in these everyday activities they interacted with non‐Jews (Elman 2015,


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p. 231; see also Elman 2010a, pp. 548–553 on the economics of these cities). If this type of economic interaction existed, the various talmudic passages that depict similar interactions must be re‐evaluated. This focus on the material cultural also suggests ways to study the geographical and material context of Babylonian urban rabbis, who lived next to Persian elites, as a lens for interpreting rabbinic culture. Babylonian Jews’ exposure to the material culture around them extends beyond economic transactions with non‐Jews to include the topography and architecture in and around their residential communities. In the case of Ctesiphon, St. John Simpson relates that the history of excavations there reveals the metropolis’s array of “palatial residences, game preserves, parks (paradeisoi), villages, fields, orchards, forts and other buildings” (Simpson 2015, p. 7). Even with such descriptions, photographs, and maps produced by scholars, it is still challenging for us today to envision the richness of this environment based on the standing structures, though the Taq‐i Kisra, part of the Sasanian palace, can at least help spark our imagination to that end (see Breck 1931; Kurz 1941; Kröger 2011; Keall 2011) (see Figure 9.3). Ctesiphon itself has not been properly excavated since before World War II. Earlier digs were led by Ernst Herzfeld in 1903–1911 and teams of German and then German‐ American archaeologists in 1928–1929 and 1931–1932, among others (Kröger 2011). From 1964 to 1976, Italian archaeologists worked in the adjacent city of Weh‐Ardashir, on the east bank of the Tigris (Simpson 2015; Kröger 2011), which is mentioned in the Babylonian Talmud in passages about economics and the Exilarch (see, for example, b. Giṭ. 6a; and on Weh‐Ardashir and the Exilarch, see Herman 2012a, pp. 26–27, 134,

Figure 9.3  Arch of Khosrow and palace facade. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/ File:Taq_Kasra_-_1934.jpg

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156–161, 215–216). Excavations in this city have yielded important discoveries about its diverse populations, such as a late Sasanian church (Kröger 2011). Among other findings, the excavation of “two residential blocks” in the south of Weh‐Ardashir discovered that they have businesses and private domiciles (Simpson 2015, p. 13). The workshops appear to have made goods of metal and glass, two materials mentioned in rabbinic sources, often in passages dealing with purity laws (see Grossmark 2010). The archaeological excavation has concluded that the residences were typically mud‐brick homes, flat‐roofed and single story (Simpson 2015, p. 14). In a detailed analysis, Simpson astutely compares these remains with parallel descriptions of houses in the Babylonian Talmud, thereby harmonizing archaeological finds with talmudic sources (Simpson 2015, pp. 14–15, on b. B. Bat. 6b–7a). This method of comparison of archaeological data with talmudic literature opens up new pathways for reconstructing the social history of the Jews of Mesopotamia. In various passages in the Talmud, the rabbis refer to Persian cuisine and fashion, at times even invoking Iranian loanwords such as “belt” or “milk‐dish” (Mokhtarian 2015, pp. 56–57). If one assumes that some Jews, especially in urban areas like Maḥoza, wore similar clothes as their Persian neighbors, then it is fair to utilize the imagery available on material relics, such as Sasanian coins and inscriptions, that offer detailed insight into how, for instance, women dressed in this time period (see Baker, Chapter 8). Do the talmudic descriptions of women’s fashion—such as cosmetics (see, for example, Labovitz 2012, especially pp. 13 and 28, no. 2)—match the evidence of Sasanian materials? In the case of women’s dress, Bernard Goldman, for instance, synthesizes drawings of all the available material data on shawls, shoes, jewelry, hairstyles, and tiaras (Goldman 1997). These data provide relevant comparable considerations for the status of jewelry in weddings and marriages. More comparisons of this sort will only enhance our knowledge of Sasanian Jewish life. The Sasanian inscriptions represent another useful material corpus for historians of Babylonian Jewry. These largely propagandistic sources, most of which are in Fars and thus at a geographic distance from Mesopotamia, are in Middle Persian and Parthian, with some also in Greek. The contents of these inscriptions may or may not have been directly known among the Aramaic‐speaking Jewish population. Nevertheless, part of the value of the inscriptions is their expression of royal motifs in texts and rock reliefs that were part of the broader cultural landscape of the Sasanian Empire in which the Jews lived (see, for example, Herman’s 2014 use of Narseh’s Paikuli inscription). Produced mostly in the third and fourth centuries ce, the inscriptions typically aim to authorize the Sasanian rulers’ boastings about triumphs and claims to territory, though others, such as those of the Zoroastrian High Priest Kirder, contain autobiographical and other useful texts. Among the most fascinating excerpts from the third century high priest’s inscriptions are his heavenly ascent narrative where he witnesses his doppelgänger being led by princes and a woman to palaces above (for a translation, see Skjærvø 1983), as well as the often‐cited passage at Naqš‐i Rustam, made during the reign of Wahram II (276–293), which describes the persecution of Jews, Christians, Hindus, and Manichaeans, among other religious groups. This latter text has many different translations; what follows is my modified translation of two standard translations, one in French and the other in English (cf. Gignoux 1991, pp. 69–71; Boyce 1990, p. 112). The Kirder inscriptions are some of the earliest extant Sasanian sources (much of the Pahlavi corpus comes from the late Sasanian– early Islamic periods) and engage topics such as the afterlife and treatment of others that


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can be used comparatively. The inscriptions also have images of the priest himself “with a tall round hat” and “a necklace with large pearls, and the hand raised with a finger pointing in reverence” (Skjærvø 2012). After describing Wahram’s appointment of Kirder as the high priest of Ohrmazd over the entire realm and as a grandee (wazurg), the high priest claims (translation is based on Boyce 1990, p. 112, but with some minor changes): And in every province and place of the whole empire the service of Ohrmazd and the gods was exalted, and the Mazda‐worshipping religion and its priests were honored in the land. And the gods, and water and fire and cattle, were greatly contented, and Ahriman and the devs suffered great blows and harm. And the creed of Ahriman and the devs was driven out of the land and deprived of credence. And in the land Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Nazoreans, Christians, Baptists, and Manichaeans were struck down (zad). And images were overthrown, and the dens of the demons were (thus) destroyed and became the places and seats of the gods.

This declaration of the authority of the high priest Kirder—sometimes transliterated as Kartir—reports that the deities were served and the Mazdayasnian (a title essentially synonymous with Zoroastrian) religion and priesthood were honored. The inscription then describes how eight religious groups, including the Jews, Christians, and Manichaeans, were “struck down” (zad), and how foreign temples were destroyed and then flipped into “thrones and seats for the gods.” As the Iranist Prods Oktor Skjærvø explains, the common verb zad may not mean, as most translators assume, a physical persecution, but could be a reference “to no more than the results of disputes with other faiths” (Skjærvø 2012). Historians should avoid making generalizations about the relations between the Sasanian kings, priests, and non‐Zoroastrians based on this one propagandistic text, important though it may be. Scholars have seized upon this description of Zoroastrian persecution in this passage—which is one of the few referencing Jews in the entire Middle Persian epigraphical corpus—as corroborating testimony to the several talmudic passages that suggest Magian persecutions against preparing ritual meat, ritual baths, burial of the dead, and destructions of synagogues (b. Yebam. 63b and b. Yoma 10a), even though the dating of these data does not align (see especially the critique of this comparison in Kalmin 2006, pp. 122–124, 127–130, and 136–138). As Josef Wiesehöfer rightly argues, the question of the relations between the Sasanian empire and the Jews requires more nuance than the facile acceptance of any single type of data such as Kirder’s statement (Wiesehöfer 1996, pp. 211–212). Scholars also often interpret Sasanian policies toward Jews and Christians in terms of a simplistic dichotomy of persecution versus tolerance. Wiesehöfer astutely turns to Roman historians’ analyses of the Roman empire’s relationship with minorities, such as Manichaeans, as a suitable model upon which to think through these same issues in the East: What were the different Sasanian kings’ policies and attitudes toward their own religion and that of others? What were the political pressures behind such policies? And how did the ways in which Jews and Christians perceive and interact with the Zoroastrian religion and the imperial ­government affect Sasanian policies toward them? One must treat all these questions simultaneously in order to understand the complex issue of Sasanian treatment of the Jews. The material record from Sasanian Iran offers unique data on these questions about Babylonian Jewish ­history

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in various ways. It fills in historical gaps; it provides comparative materials, from an alternative perspective, with that of the talmudic literature; and it records how the Persian empire thought about and treated “its” Jews.

Incantation Bowls from Sasanian Mesopotamia Except for the Jewish‐Sasanian seals, the Jewish incantation bowls are the only material relics remaining from the Jewish communities of Sasanian Mesopotamia. The clay bowls, which have incantations inscribed on them, are magical tools that clients ordered from sorcerers in order to repel demons and evil spirits from their domiciles or bodies. The bowls are unique to Sasanian Mesopotamia, and most date from the sixth and seventh centuries ce. Although their precise function is debated, it is plausible that the bowls were placed upside‐down in one’s house as a way to trap the demons underneath them. In this time period, it was believed by many, Jews and others, that demons and evil spirits pervaded every aspect of life. The corpus of Aramaic incantation bowls—written in Jewish Babylonian Aramaic, Mandaic, and Syriac—is the most significant resource for researching the everyday popular beliefs and practices of Jews, Mandaeans, Christians, Zoroastrians, and other religious and ethnic communities in this time period. Although the spell texts are limited in that they are repetitive formulae expressed in magical genres with a specific set of purposes, they prove to be valuable as archaeological relics attesting to practices on the ground by real Jews and non‐Jews, who are named as the clients in the spells. More than 2000 bowls exist in collections worldwide, though only hundreds have been critically edited thus far, with more being published all the time. According to Gideon Bohak, “the size of the entire corpus, once it is published, will rival even that of the Babylonian Talmud” (Bohak 2012). A corpus that is this large and complex, made up of part text and part object, will greatly enhance our understating of a variety of key issues: oralities, folklore, religious and ethnic identity, family life, demonology and angelology, healing ­practices, to say nothing of hekhalot and targumic studies, as well as Aramaic dialects. The discovery of the bowls dates back to the mid‐1800s when the English archaeologist Austen Layard excavated some from near the Euphrates River and in Babylon (Layard 1853, pp. 434–448). Since then, there have been numerous edited collections of bowls, from James Montgomery’s monumental work Aramaic Incantation Texts from Nippur published in 1913 (Montgomery 1913), to Dan Levene’s edition of bowls from the Shlomo Moussaieff collection (Levene 2003), to the recent multivolume project, overseen by series editors Shaul Shaked and Siam Bhayro (Brill, Magical and Religious Literature in Late Antiquity), which includes never‐before‐published Jewish and Syriac bowls from the Martin Schøyen collection (see vols. 1 to 3: Shaked et al. 2013; Levene 2013; Moriggi 2014). Many of the incantation bowls are protective ones that are intended to keep clients and their families safe from illnesses and supernatural evils, such as demons, curses, and liliths, that threaten their wellbeing. There are, however, other types of genres and purposes in the bowl corpus. Other bowl spells, for instance, contain black magic that clients use with the goal of causing injury to personal enemies, or counteracting spells that others had


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ordered against them (see the collection in Levene 2013). Delving deeper, there are still other explicit functions of the bowls: as medicinal recipes for healing specific ailments (e.g., headaches or cataracts) (see, for example, Shaked, Ford, and Bhayro 2013, pp. 62–64 [JBA 3]) or for success for business (Levene and Bhayro, 2005–2006). The exact practice in antiquity surrounding the use of magical bowls is contested, but it appears that clients planted them upside‐down, sometimes in groups of two, in the ground in a room in one’s home or in cemeteries (Levene 2013, p. 7), perhaps with the intent of trapping the demons inside. Some bowls contain instructions on where to place them in the house, such as one that on its exterior reads: “For the inner room in the hall” (Isbell 1975, pp. 71–72 [Text 23]). As evidenced by the rare mention of dates of production in a few of the bowls themselves, these relics date to the sixth or seventh centuries ce (Shaked 2015, p. 102), around the same general time frame that the Talmud was edited. Chronologically, this places the phenomenon of bowl‐magic to the centuries between the decline of the cuneiform tradition circa the third and fourth centuries ce, on the one hand, and the advent of Islam and final redaction of the Talmud, on the other. Although the precise provenance of many of the bowls is unknown, in part due to illegal excavations in Iraq after the Gulf War in the 1990s (on this, see Brodie 2014, and on the complicated case of the Schøyen collection, see Brodie and Kersel 2014), it is confirmed that others were excavated in Nippur, Borsippa, and Babylon. Some bowls may have perhaps even come from Sura or Pumbedita, the locales of major talmudic academies (Müller‐Kessler 2005, p. 221). The cheap clay of the bowls, the hues of which could, upon further examination, be clues to their provenance (Morony 2003, p. 93), is indicative of their widespread availability among everyday people (Shaked, Ford, and Bhayro 2013, p. 2). The words of the incantations are inscribed in patterns, such as concentric circles, and in ink script that is now often faded. Some bowls also contain images of demons or evil spirits, such as a ­fettered demon (Figures 9.4 and 9.5). These figurative drawings offer an important insight into the visual culture of Sasanians regarding supernatural evils that haunted their everyday lives (Hunter 1998, especially pp. 95–97).

Figure 9.4  Fettered demon on a bowl.

Material Culture of the Jews of Sasanian Mesopotamia


Figure 9.5  Incantation bowl. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Coupe_Aram%C3% A9en_Nippur_Mus%C3%A9e_Mariemont_08112015.jpg.

The majority of the published bowls from the area are identified as Jewish due to their Jewish Aramaic language and script (for a table with percentages of bowls per language, see Table IA in Morony 2003, p. 87), as well as their obvious Jewish contents: deities (e.g., YHWH and its variants, Shaddai, Adonai); rabbinic motifs (e.g., divorce deed, oaths, bans); hekhalot resonances (see Shaked 1995b); as well as biblical citations, some of which, such as Exodus 15: 3 and Deut. 28: 57, are the earliest witnesses of specific biblical texts not found in the Dead Sea Scrolls (Lanfer 2015, p. 11, no. 6). Recently, Shaked has researched the status in the bowls of certain named rabbis, some of whom, such as Rav Ashi, Mar Zutra, and Rav Dimi, may be the talmudic sages of the same name found in the Talmud (Shaked 2015, p. 103). There is, in other words, a clear, but not yet fully understood, connection between Babylonian rabbinic culture and the so‐called popular magic in the bowls. Tantalizingly, there are numerous Jewish Aramaic bowls that were created at the behest of Persian‐named clients. These Persians, whose names typically do not have Zoroastrian religious connotations, may or may not be Jews. For example, one frequent client is a Persian‐named woman, Mahdukh daughter of Newandukh, for whom there were produced at least 40 extant bowls (Shaked 2011, p. 191, no. 13; on the name, see Ilan 2011, pp. 234–235), including ones with stories referencing Ḥ anina ben Dosa, the wonder‐ worker of rabbinic literary fame (Shaked, Ford, and Bhayro 2013, p. 54). Shaked explains this high number of bowls owned by one client by offering a biographical conjecture: she may have been a “hypochondriac and paranoid,” “pious,” and/or “affluent” (Shaked 2011, pp. 201–202). Indeed, by paying close attention to the details and patterns in the bowl corpus, scholars can write micro‐histories of Sasanian Mesopotamian family life,


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psychophysical phenomena, and communal relations. Translated below, one bowl text produced for Mahdukh daughter of Newandukh aims at protecting the client and her family “from all evil things” (MS 2053/13 in Shaked 2011, pp. 192–198 and 209). As is common, much of this spell is duplicated in two other bowls likely to have been made in the same scribal workshop (Shaked 2011, p. 192; translation below) with numerous divergences due to the creativity of the composition. May there be healing from heaven to Mahdukh daughter of Newandukh, and may she be healed. By the name of ’brssbyh. I descended to the depths of the earth, I saw the foundations of the world with my eyes. (As for) the tremors of the world, I looked at them. And lo, I heard a voice of speech that spoke from the midst of the electrum. It spoke and thus did it say: I am [Segan] the swift angel, who stands in the presence of the Lord of the World, [in the matter of the children of women] who are snatched away, and it starts off and thus does it say: “I sat at the tombs of the dead, and I heard the voice of women who were moaning and sighing, who were shouting and screaming, who were weeping and crying, and who started off saying thus: “We were in the form of lightning, we were born in the form of clouds, and lo, (there were) four great living beings who were sent out against our children, who strangle, snatch, crush and devour, like a lion that snatches, strangles, crushes and devours.” … “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make] his face [shine] upon you and be gracious unto you. The Lord [lift up his countenance towards you and give you peace]” (Num. 6: 24–26). … May there be healing from heaven to Ma[hdukh daughter of Newandukh] and may she be protected from all evil things … all … all …

This incantation begins by stating its general purpose and the client’s name—namely, to heal Mahdukh daughter of Newandukh. The subsequent invocation of a supernatural agent (“By the name of”) is routine in the bowls as a means of empowering the speech act. The first‐person descent vision found in this incantation, which is attested in other bowls, is not meant to represent the sorcerer or client, but rather “is an anonymous author who serves as a prototype with whom the practitioner and client can identify” (Shaked 2011, p. 199). This anonymous narrator sees “the foundations” and “the tremors of the world” and hears the voice of the angel Segan from inside “the midst of the electrum,” which is “a rarefied atmospheric substance which presumably surrounds the deity” (Shaked 2011, p. 200). The angel Segan reports on the experience of “sitting at the tombs of the dead” and hearing weeping women shouting out about the “four great living beings” who “like a lion” get “sent out against the children, who strangle, snatch, crush and devour.” One theme found throughout the Mahdukh bowls is protection for her children and grandchildren (on the mention of grandchildren, see MS 2053/188 in Shaked 2011, p. 194). After then repelling the daughter of Tasat lilith from the 252 limbs of the client, the bowl ends by citing two biblical texts: Zechariah 3: 2 and Numbers 6: 24–26. The former text appears in a vision of the prophet Zechariah when the high priest Joshua— who comes before an angel of the Lord with Satan to his right to accuse him—only to have the angel take off Joshua’s filthy garments and dress him in priestly robes and a diadem.

Material Culture of the Jews of Sasanian Mesopotamia


The bowl incorporates this biblical imagery as an analogy to grant Mahdukh the same holy protection. The second citation from Numbers 6 is from the priestly blessing by which priests should bless Israel, granting them peace. Save for these biblical verses, and references to Shaddai, this bowl is not as Judaized (or rabbinized) as others in the bowl corpus intended for the same client. Further research into the language and provenance of these bowls will deepen our knowledge of the scribal practices that influence the difference between the bowls and their relationship to their cultural contexts. Other bowls for Mahdukh daughter of Newandukh articulate specific ailments that the spell aims to resolve. To give one example, bowls M155 and M156, which were found together, list the topics of vaginal bleeding, headaches, and cataracts (Levene 2003, pp. 110–120, especially p. 110). In M155, the angels are sent to stop the evil spirits who attack the belly of Mahdukh, and some of the powerful names in it are directly paralleled in both the talmudic and hekhalot literature. They also appear in the magical texts in the Cairo Genizah. Bowl magic did not emerge independently or in a vacuum and is one expression within a broader Jewish magical tradition that is attested in, for example, late antique amulets from Palestine and early medieval resources from the Cairo Genizah, both of which contain parallel texts to the Mesopotamian bowls. The Iranian clients of the bowls turned to all sorts of sorcerers who worked in different languages and scripts. For example, the Iranian‐named client Dadbeh son of Asmandukht is the client named in both Jewish bowls and a Syriac bowl in Manichaen script that was unearthed by the University of Pennsylvania in 1888–1889 in Nippur and republished recently by Moriggi (Isbell 1975, pp. 71–74 [Texts 23 and 24]; Moriggi 2014, pp. 36 and 43–45 [Bowl 5]). The Syriac spell, which appears to mimic and perhaps even was transcribed from a Jewish Aramaic precursor, invokes Rabbi Yehoshua b. Peraḥya’s divorce deed against the demons in the client’s house as an analogy for the lot that gets drawn in the opening line of the spell: The lot I cast and I take, magical act that was performed like it was when Rab Joshua bar Peraḥya sat (in court), and wrote against them a bill of divorce against all of them: demons and devils and satans and liliths and no‐good‐ones that are in the house of Dadbeh son of Asmandukht. (Moriggi 2014, p. 44)

This is a Syriac spell for a client with an Iranian name that uses the authority of a rabbi and the rabbinic motif of the divorce deed to symbolize the client’s desired separation from the demons. In lieu of the expected halakhic term geṭ, “divorce deed,” the text adopts the Iranian synonym as a loanword—dstbyr’, “divorce deed”—which comes from an Iranian legal discursive context (Shaked 1985, pp. 512–513). Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians thus all contributed to the persistence of the divorce metaphor in Sasanian magic, though not always in ways that conform to orthodox expressions of one particular religion. This Syriac bowl’s rabbinic elements are not found in the parallel Jewish Aramaic bowl for the same client and his Iranian‐named wife Šarqoi the daughter of Dada (Isbell 1975, pp. 71–74). The Jewish Aramaic bowl protects the client and possessions from liliths, monsters, curses, demons, and “everything bad,” invoking YHWH at its conclusion. Interestingly, one of this couple’s son’s names is Abraham, which could imply that they were Jews, Christians, or, not implausibly, Zoroastrians who named their son Abraham—


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or of mixed ethnicity and religion (see Isbell 1975, pp. 71–72 [Text 23]). In making determinations about ancient peoples’ religious or ethnic identities based on the names, languages, and contents of the bowls, one has to remember the limitations of simple characterizations—this family was “Jewish,” “Christian,” and/or “Zoroastrian”—since there were clearly multiple definitions of these religions in late antique Persia: there were, in other words, Judaisms, Christianities, and Zoroastrianisms. In sum, the affinity between Jewish and Syriac incantation texts for Dadbeh son of Asmandukht shows us the diversity and complexity of the spectrum of identities in Sasanian Mesopotamia.

Jewish‐Sasanian Seals In the past several decades the study of Sasanian seals has opened up new avenues of research into the administration of the empire. Sasanian stamp seals are part of a broader tradition in the ancient Near East, which used impresses in these clay nuggets (bullae) as a way to confirm the sealing of a document or object in administration and trade. They were used for verification, validation, and guarantees in commercial and other activities. The study of Sasanian seals is illustrated in, for instance, the seminal monograph by Gyselen, an expert in Sasanian sigillography, entitled La géographie administrative de l’empire sassanide: Les témoignages sigillographiques (1989), which synthesizes the hundreds of seals and clay bullae that date to the late Sasanian period in order to reconstruct the empire’s administrative posts and functions, as well as where these officials were located. The demise of cuneiform writing no doubt affected the rise of the bullae as it also influenced the emergence of the bowls at the same time (Frye 1989). It was in this transitional moment that late antique Sasanians formulated their own systems of administrative and magical‐medicinal materiality. Sasanian seals served both administrative and personal needs, as bullae were used to fasten official documents involving business transactions or tax payments (Frye 1989; Azarpay 2002). The administrative seals of the Zoroastrian priests, produced beginning with Khosrow I in the sixth century ce, contain “the names of administrative provinces and titles of office such as those of finance and justice” (Azarpay). Many of these seals are products of local administrators, including around geographical areas where Jews and Babylonian rabbis resided. The Babylonian Talmud (b. Sanh. 95a) itself alludes to the Sasanian practice of clay sealing in a rich passage about King David hunting animals that exhibits Persian resonances (Herman 2012b, pp. 111–123) and contains the Iranian loanword *gil‐muhrag [MS Florence II‐I‐9] (cf. Middle Iranian: *gil‐muhrag, “clay seal,” per Sokoloff 2002, p. 281). It may be the case that some of the Sasanian seals with biblical names written in Pahlavi were utilized by Jews, or perhaps by Christians (Walker 2006, pp. 156–157, no. 151). Based on the totality of the evidence, it appears that Sasanian inhabitants of Mesopotamia and beyond shared the same seal practices. Outside of Mesopotamia, the Jews in Armenia, Adiabene, Parthia, and other areas could also have owned Sasanian seals, as Lerner notes (Lerner 2009, p. 655). The Jews’ participation in the practice of using seals is corroborated by the existence of approximately 24 Jewish‐Sasanian seals with Hebrew inscriptions or Jewish motifs (Friedenberg 2008; Shaked 1977, 1981, and, for the tally of around 24 and definition of what counts as Jewish seals, see especially Shaked 1995a, p. 239). For Shaked, the

Material Culture of the Jews of Sasanian Mesopotamia


­ efinition of a seal as Jewish requires either “an inscription in the Hebrew script or have d unequivocal Jewish glyptic motifs” (Shaked 1995a, p. 239). Other than these features, the Jewish seals are firmly rooted in the Sasanian glyptic tradition. The Jewish‐Sasanian seals contain images such as a lulav and etrog, a lion, an incense shovel, and “a star over a crescent over a scorpion,” among others (see Shaked 1995a, pp. 241–242, nos. 2, 6, 9, and 11, respectively). Additionally, there are other seals with images that may be identified as either Jewish or Christian, such as the sacrifice of Isaac or Daniel and the lion’s den (Shaked 1995a, p. 240). In a detailed study of the sacrifice of Isaac motif in Sasanian glyptic art, Lerner delineates the complicating factors in determining whether such a seal is Jewish or Christian based on its iconographic motifs (Lerner 2007, pp. 43–45). At least two seals with the Isaac motif appear to be Jewish based on the names. One of them reads: “Hillel bar R…” (Shaked 1995a, p. 243, no. 16), while another one, with a ram and burning bush, has the Hebrew inscription Shmuel bar Yehudah (Lerner 2009, p. 664). Among the Babylonian Amoraim was a sage named Rabbi Shmuel b. Yehudah, known for traveling back and forth between Babylonia and the land of Israel (see b. Ber. 14b), whom one could possibly, though not definitively, identify as the same person on the seal. This ­connection would, however, require an explanation as to why the title “rabbi” does not preface the name (on this issue, see Friedenberg 2008, pp. 13–16 and cf. Lerner 2009, pp. 654–655). Here is another Jewish seal, with the name Isaac son of Papa with a lulav and etrog, from the National Museum in Copenhagen (Shaked 1995a, p. 244, no. 20) (Figure 9.6). There is no known sage with this name, even though this name must have been quite common. Like the bowls, some of the names on the Jewish seals appear to match those of talmudic sages, including Huna bar Nathan, Judah son of Abba, Isaac son of Judah, and others (Shaked 2015, p. 97). In my view, it is historically reasonable to identify the names on the seals with the rabbis of the same name. The seals were “a status symbol” in Sasanian Persia and for stamping important documents (Shaked 2015, p. 97). The Talmud often

Figure 9.6  Jewish‐Sasanian seal of Isaac son of Papa. Source: National Museum of Denmark, Photographer : Lennart Larsen.


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depicts rabbis involved in the administration of legal documents and seals, including Persian ones (Secunda 2012, pp. 399–400 and no. 48 in reference to b. B. Bat. 161b). The example of Ḥ una bar Nathan is instructive. A seal with the Jewish images of the lulav and etrog in its middle is ascribed to this fourth‐century figure whom the Babylonian Talmud describes as wearing a girdle, a sign of the sage’s authority, in front of the Sasanian monarch Yazdegird I (see Shaked 1995a, p. 242, no. 9; 1981, pp. 65–68; b. Zebaḥ. 19a). It is unfortunately impossible to determine whether Jewish‐Sasanian seals were known to the imperial authorities and, perhaps, even permitted in Sasanian courts of law in cases involving a Jew. One can conjecture here that the Sasanian authorities were aware of and maybe even endorsed the Jewish seals, which were perhaps considered private individual seals used legally and in contracts in a limited number of civil cases (Macuch 1997, p. 81). For example, in the Mādayān ı̄ Hazār Dādestān (Book of a Thousand Judgments), the most important Sasanian law‐book that records judicial practices, private seals appear in civil documents as authorizing agents, including the saxwan‐nāmag, “record of statements” (Macuch 1997, p. 81). Whether the Jewish seals were valid in Sasanian or Jewish courts is impossible to know, and it remains debated to what extent the Jewish seals are either products of the elite used in courts of law or remnants of contracts used by Jewish merchants in lieu of signatures (Lerner 2009, p. 655). Lerner has concluded, based on a study of both Jewish and Christian imagery, that these seals were used publicly and administratively (Lerner 2007, p. 47). The Jews of Babylonia were, therefore, aware of and participants in Sasanian practices of sealing documents, though the precise use of Jewish seals in Sasanian society, and Persian seals in Jewish society, is evasive. The Iranist Maria Macuch, in commenting on the Iranian term muhraqē wāwarı̄ganē, which appears in the Talmud in b. ‘Erub. 62a, argues that at least in some cases Jewish officials had legal authority to use their seals in civil, administrative, and economic transactions (Macuch 1999, p. 97). Although the Jewish communities of Babylonia had a certain amount of legal autonomy in cases between Jews (Mokhtarian 2015, pp. 106–116), Babylonian Jews were also involved in Sasanian legal proceedings. As a result they knew of certain procedures that they adopted into their own system in certain ways. The seals are of course only one piece of information within this larger puzzle, but it appears that by researching Sasanian seals one is able to understand better the interconnected judicial systems of the Jews and Persian authorities.

Conclusion The material record of Sasanian Mesopotamia provides a unique insight into the social life of the Jewish communities responsible for producing the Babylonian Talmud, perhaps the most important corpus of literature in the Jewish sacred canon. Investigation into both Jewish and non‐Jewish material sources opens up new avenues for the study of the Babylonian Jewish communities’ social historical reality. In terms of specifically Jewish sources, the Jewish Aramaic magic bowls and Jewish‐Sasanian seals provide essential data for understanding the practices of Jews in the realm of magic, medicine, and document‐ sealing in economic transactions or in courts of law. Moreover, the bowls and seals reflect the interactions that Jews conducted with others. Despite its insularity, the Talmud ­contains many pages of legal discussions and stories that critically evaluate all sorts of

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interactions between Babylonian Jews and their neighbors, thereby pointing to the inter‐ communal social connections. Material culture offers an opportunity to engage further the literary traces of these interactions that took place between the rabbis, everyday Jews, and other Sasanian groups. As we have seen, some rabbis known from the Talmud appear in the bowls and on the seals, illustrating the intersection between rabbinic and non‐­ rabbinic Jewish life. In the case of the bowls, Jewish sorcerers created incantations in order to ward off evil spirits and diseases from clients of varied ethnic and religious identities, such as the Iranian‐named owner of around 40 bowls of Mahdukh daughter of Newandukh. The Jewish Aramaic spells represent an amalgamation of all types of influences: Mesopotamian (cuneiform) and pagan, biblical and rabbinic, and Christian and Mandaic formulae. For their part, the Jewish‐Sasanian seals cannot be separated from Sasanian sealing practices that are attested in the many Sasanian seals to which the Jewish‐Sasanian ones with Hebrew inscriptions and Jewish iconography must be compared. Social historians of Babylonian Jewry should continue to ponder the implications of the existence of the approximately two dozen Jewish‐Sasanian seals in light of talmudic passages that describe sealing and judicial practices, especially those that reference Sasanian technical terminology through the use of loanwords. While the identification of the named personages on the seals as the same‐named rabbis in the Talmud may never be definitely provable, the very possibility that there are extant material remnants of presumably high‐level Sasanian Jews who sealed documents potentially provides corroborating evidence for rabbis as administrative practitioners, an impression that has long been assumed based on the Talmud’s realistic but literary descriptions of such practices. Although limited in scope and number, the Jewish‐Sasanian seals’ ramifications for understanding a key Jewish ­practice in its broader Persian context remain far‐reaching.

NOTE 1 Historically, Babylonia is an area between the two rivers in southeastern Mesopotamia, encompassing the cities of Babylon, Nippur, and Ur. Mesopotamia, by contrast, is a larger region, extending from the Persian Gulf in the south, through Iraq and parts of Syria, to modern‐day southeastern Turkey. Nevertheless, these terms are often used interchangeably in the discourse of Jewish history in these regions.

REFERENCES Alram, Michael (1999). The beginning of Sasanian coinage. Bulletin of the Asia Institute 13: 67–76. Alram, M. and Gyselen, R. (eds.) (2003). Sylloge Nummorum Sasanidarum. Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences Press. Azarpay, Guitty, with Catherine Demos, Edward Gans, Lydia Gans, Wolfgang Heimpel, Anne Draffkorn Kilmer, Sanjyot Mehendale, and Jeanette Zerneke (updated 2002). Sasanian seals from the collection of the late Edward Gans, at the University of California, Berkeley. http://www.ecai.org/sasanian‐web/docs/sasanian seals.html.


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Bakhos, Carol and Shayegan, Rahim (eds.) (2010). The Talmud in Its Iranian Context. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. Bohak, Gideon (2012). Ancient Jewish magic. Oxford Bibliographies Online: Jewish Studies (ed. David Biale). New York: Oxford University Press. Boyce, Mary (1990). Textual Sources for the Study of Zoroastrianism. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Breck, Joseph (1931). The Ctesiphon expedition. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 26: 229–230. Brodie, Neil (2014). Aramaic incantation bowls in war and peace. The Journal of Art Crime 11: 9–14. Brodie, Neil and Kersel, Morag M. (2014). WikiLeaks, text, and archaeology: The case of the Schøyen incantation bowls. In: Archaeologies of Text: Archaeology, Technology, and Ethics (eds. Matthew T. Rutz and Morag M. Kersel), 198–213. Philadelphia, PA: Oxbow Books. de Jong, Albert (2004). Zoroastrian religious polemics and their contexts: interconfessional relations in the Sasanian empire. In: Religious Polemics in Context: Papers Presented to the Second International Conference of the Leiden Institute for the Study of Religions (eds. T.L. Hettema and A. van der Kooij), 48–63. Assen: Royal van Gorcum. Elman, Yaakov (2004). “Up to the ears” in horses’ necks (B.M. 108a): on Sasanian agricultural policy and private “eminent domain.” Jewish Studies: An Internet Journal 3: 95–149. Elman, Yaakov (2007a). Middle Persian culture and Babylonian sages: accommodation and resistance in the shaping of rabbinic legal tradition. In: The Cambridge Companion to the Talmud and Rabbinic Literature (eds. Charlotte Elisheva Fonrobert and Martin S. Jaffee), 165–197. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Elman, Yaakov (2007b). The socioeconomics of Babylonian heresy. Jewish Law Association Studies 17: 80–127. Elman, Yaakov (2010a). Babylonian Jews at the intersection of the Iranian economy and Sasanian law. In: The Oxford Handbook of Judaism and Economics (ed. Aaron Levine), 545–563. New York: Oxford University Press. Elman, Yaakov (2010b). Talmud, ii: Rabbinic literature and Middle Persian texts. Encyclopædia Iranica, online edn. http://www.iranica.com/articles/talmud‐ii. Elman, Yaakov (2015). Shopping in Ctesiphon: a lesson in Sasanian commercial practice. In: The Archaeology and Material Culture of the Babylonian Talmud (ed. Markham J. Geller), 225–244. Leiden: Brill. Friedenberg, Daniel M. (2008). Sasanian Jewry and Its Culture: A Lexicon of Jewish and Related Seals. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press. Frye, Richard (1989). Bullae. Encyclopædia Iranica, online edn. http://www.iranicaonline. org/articles/bullae‐sealings. Gafni, Isaiah (2007). Rabbinic historiography and representations of the past. In: The Cambridge Companion to the Talmud and Rabbinic Literature (eds. Charlotte Elisheva Fonrobert and Martin S. Jaffee), 295–312. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Gafni, Isaiah (2010). The modern study of rabbinics and historical questions: the tale of the text. In: The New Testament and Rabbinic Literature (eds. Reimund Bieringer,

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Florentino García Martínez, Didier Pollefeyt, and Peter J. Tomson), 43–61. Boston, MA: Brill. Geller, Markham J. (ed.) (2015). The Archaeology and Material Culture of the Babylonian Talmud. Leiden: Brill. Gignoux, Philip (ed.) (1991). Les quatre inscriptions du mage Kirdı̄r: Textes et concordances. Paris: Association pour l’Avancement des Études Iraniennes. Goldman, Bernard (1997). Women’s robing in the Sasanian era. Iranica Antiqua 32: 233–300. Grossmark, Tziona (2010). “And He decreed that glassware is susceptible to becoming unclean”: the application of the laws of ritual purity to glassware reconsidered. Jewish Studies Quarterly 17: 191–212. Gyselen, Rika (1989). La Géographie Administrative de l’Empire Sassanide: Les Témoignages Sigillographiques. Leuven: Peeters. Gyselen, Rika (2007). Sasanian Seals and Sealings in the A. Saeedi Collection. Dudley: Peeters. Harper, Prudence O. (1981). Silver Vessels of the Sasanian Period, Volume One: Royal Imagery. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Herman, Geoffrey (2012a). A Prince Without a Kingdom: The Exilarch in the Sasanian Era. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. Herman, Geoffrey (2012b). “One day David went out for the hunt of the falconers”: Persian themes in the Babylonian Talmud. In: Shoshannat Yaakov: Jewish and Iranian Studies in Honor of Yaakov Elman (eds. Shai Secunda and Steven Fine), 111–136. Boston, MA: Brill. Herman, Geoffrey (2014). Insurrection in the academy: the Babylonian Talmud and the Paikuli inscription. Zion 79: 377–407. Hunter, Erica C.D. (1998). Who are the Demons? The iconography of incantation bowls. Studi epigrafici e linguistici sul Vicino Oriente antico 15: 95–115. Ilan, Tal, with Kerstin Hünefeld (2011). Lexicon of Jewish Names in Late Antiquity. Part 4, The Eastern Diaspora, 330 BCE–650 CE. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. Isbell, Charles D. (1975). Corpus of the Aramaic Incantation Bowls. Eugene: Wipf & Stock. Kalmin, Richard (2006). Jewish Babylonia between Persia and Roman Palestine. New York: Oxford University Press. Keall, E.J. (1987, updated 2011). Ayvān‐e Kesrā. Encyclopædia Iranica, online edn.: http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/ayvan‐e‐kesra‐palace‐of‐kosrow‐at‐ctesiphon. Kiel, Yishai (2016). Sexuality in the Babylonian Talmud: Christian and Sasanian Contexts in Late Antiquity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Kröger, Jens (1993, updated 2011). Ctesiphon. Encyclopædia Iranica, online edn.: www. iranicaonline.org/articles/ctesiphon. Kurz, Otto (1941). The date of the Ṭāq i Kisrā. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland 1: 37–41. Labovitz, Gail (2012). “Even Your Mother and Your Mother’s Mother”: rabbinic literature on women’s usage of cosmetics. Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women’s Studies and Gender Issues 23: 12–34. Lanfer, Peter (2015). Why biblical scholars should study Aramaic bowls. Aramaic Studies 13: 9–23.


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Layard, Austen H. (1853). Discoveries in the Ruins of Nineveh and Babylon. London: Harper and Brothers. Lerner, Judith A. (2007). The sacrifice of Isaac revisited: additional observations on a theme in Sasanian glyptic art. In: Facts and Artefacts: Art in the Islamic World – Festschrift for Jens Kröger on his 65th Birthday (eds. Annette Hagedorn and Avinoam Shalem), 39–57. Boston, MA: Brill. Lerner, Judith A. (2009). Considerations on an aspect of Jewish culture under the Sasanians: the matter of Jewish sigillography [Review of Daniel M. Friedenberg, Sasanian Jewry and Its Culture: A Lexicon of Jewish and Related Seals (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2009)]. Journal of the American Oriental Society 129: 653–664. Levene, Dan (2003). A Corpus of Magic Bowls: Incantation Texts in Jewish Aramaic from Late Antiquity. New York: Columbia University Press. Levene, Dan (2013). Jewish Aramaic Curse Texts from Late‐Antique Mesopotamia: “May These Curses Go Out and Flee”. Boston, MA: Brill. Levene, Dan and Bhayro, Siam (2005–2006). “Bring to the Gates … upon a Good Smell and upon Good Fragrances”: an Aramaic incantation bowl for success in business. Archiv für Orientforschung 51: 242–246. Macuch, Maria (1997). The use of seals in Sasanian jurisprudence. In: Sceaux d’Orient et Leur Employ (eds. Rika Gyselen and Pierre Amiet), 79–87. Leuven: Peeters. Macuch, Maria (1999). Iranian legal terminology in the Babylonian Talmud in light of Sasanian jurisprudence. In: Irano‐Judaica IV: Studies Relating to Jewish Contacts with Persian Culture Throughout the Ages (eds. Shaul Shaked and Amnon Netzer), 91–101. Jerusalem: Ben‐Zvi Institute. Mokhtarian, Jason Sion (2015). Rabbis, Sorcerers, Kings, and Priests: The Culture of the Talmud in Ancient Iran. Oakland, CA: University of California Press. Montgomery, James (1913). Aramaic Incantation Texts from Nippur. Philadelphia, PA: University Museum. Moriggi, Marco (2014). A Corpus of Syriac Incantation Bowls: Syriac Magical Texts from Late‐Antique Mesopotamia. Boston, MA: Brill. Morony, Michael (1984). Iraq after the Muslim Conquest. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Morony, Michael (2003). Magic and society in late Sasanian Iraq. In: Prayer, Magic, and the Stars in the Ancient and Late Antique World (eds. Scott Noegel, Joel Walker, and Brannon Wheeler), 83–107. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press. Müller‐Kessler, Christa (2005). Of Jesus, Darius, Marduk…: Aramaic magic bowls in the Moussaieff collection. Journal of the American Oriental Society 125: 219–240. Schindel, Nikolaus (2005). Sasanian coinage. Encyclopædia Iranica, online edn.: http:// www.iranicaonline.org/articles/sasanian‐coinage. Secunda, Shai (2012). Parva – a magus. In: Shoshannat Yaakov: Jewish and Iranian Studies in Honor of Yaakov Elman (eds. Shai Secunda and Steven Fine), 391–402. Boston, MA: Brill. Secunda, Shai (2013). The Iranian Talmud: Reading the Bavli in Its Sasanian Context. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.

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Shaked, Shaul (1977). Jewish and Christian seals of the Sasanian period. In Studies in Memory of Gaston Wiet (ed. M. Rosen‐Ayalon), 17–31. Jerusalem: Institute of Asian and African Studies, Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Shaked, Shaul (1981). Epigraphica Judaeo‐Iranica. In: Studies in Judaism and Islam Presented to Shelomo Dov Goitein on the Occasion of his Eightieth Birthday by his Students, Colleagues and Friends (eds. Sh. Morag, I. Ben‐Ami, and N.A. Stillman), 65–82. Leiden: Brill. Shaked, Shaul (1985). Bagdāna, King of the Demons, and other Iranian terms in Babylonian Aramaic magic. In: Papers in Honour of Professor Mary Boyce, vol. 1 (eds. H.W. Bailey, A.D.H. Bivar, J. Duchesne‐Guillemin, and J.R. Hinnells), 511–525. Leiden: Brill. Shaked, Shaul (1995a). Jewish Sasanian sigillography. In: Au Carrefour des Religions: Mélanges offerts à Philippe Gignoux (edited by Rika Gyselen); Bures‐sur‐Yvette: Groupe pour l’Étude de la Civilisation du Moyen‐Orient, 1995, 239–256. Shaked, Shaul (1995b). “Peace be Upon You, Exalted Angels”: on hekhalot, liturgy and incantation bowls. Jewish Studies Quarterly 2: 197–219. Shaked, Shaul (2011). Transmission and transformation of spells: the case of the Jewish Babylonian Aramaic bowls. In: Continuity and Innovation in the Magical Tradition (eds. Gideon Bohak, Yuval Harari, and Shaul Shaked), 187–218. Boston, MA: Brill. Shaked, Shaul (2015). Rabbis in incantation bowls. In: The Archaeology and Material Culture of the Babylonian Talmud (ed. Markham J. Geller), 97–120. Leiden, Brill. Shaked, Shaul, Ford, J.N., and Bhayro, Siam (eds.), with Matthew Morgenstern and Naama Vilozny (2013). Aramaic Bowl Spells: Jewish Babylonian Aramaic Bowls. Leiden: Brill. Simpson, St. John (2013). Rams, stags and crosses from Sasanian Iraq: elements of a shared visual vocabulary from Late Antiquity. In: Animals, Gods and Men from East to West: Papers on Archaeology and History in Honour of Roberta Venco Ricciardi (eds. Alessandra Peruzzetto, Francesca Dorna Metzger, and Lucinda Dirven), 103–117. Oxford: Archaeopress. Simpson, St. John (2015). Land behind Ctesiphon: the archaeology of Babylonia during the period of the Babylonian Talmud. In: The Archaeology and Material Culture of the Babylonian Talmud (ed. Markham J. Geller), 6–38. Leiden, Brill. Skjærvø, Prods Oktor (1983). “Kirdir’s Vision”: translation and analysis. Archäologische Mitteilungen aus Iran 16: 269–306. Skjærvø, Prods Oktor (2012). Kartir. In Encyclopædia Iranica, online edn.: http://www. iranicaonline.org/articles/kartir. Sokoloff, Michael (2002). A Dictionary of Jewish Babylonian Aramaic. Ramat Gan: Bar‐ Ilan University Press. Walker, Joel Thomas (2006). The Legend of Mar Qardagh: Narrative and Christian Heroism in Late Antique Iraq. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Walker, Joel Thomas (2007). Museum review: Iran and its neighbors in Late Antiquity: art of the Sasanian empire (224–642 ce). American Journal of Archaeology 111: 795–801. Wiesehöfer, Josef (1996). Ancient Persia from 550 B.C. to 650 A.D. New York: I.B. Tauris.


Non‐Jewish Sources for Late Ancient Jewish History Naomi Koltun‐Fromm

Introduction Jewish history is written not just from Jewish sources but also from the larger historical cultural, material, and literary contexts in which Jews lived and operated. We have already seen in earlier essays that material culture is just one part of the larger context that demonstrates the extent to which Jews and non‐Jews lived in overlapping contexts, as it is often difficult to discern Jewish material from non‐Jewish material (see Kraemer, Chapter  2; Ahuvia, Chapter  3; Stern, Chapter  7; Baker, Chapter  8; and Mokhtarian, Chapter  9). The literary context is easier to categorize when authors self‐identify as Jewish, Christian, or other, but sometimes these identifiers remain obscured (see Mroczek, Chapter  5 and Bar‐Asher Siegal, Chapter  6). In this essay I will lay out the types of texts, not written by late ancient Jews, that nonetheless prove useful to the study of late ancient Jews and Judaism. An examination of non‐Jewish sources offers important insights not only into perceived differences between Jews and others but also reveals a number of similarities/commonalities: habits of thought, practice, and living styles, such as housing, economics, agriculture, and schooling. As many of the following essays will demonstrate, Jews did not live in a cultural vacuum, but were embedded within the larger cultural matrices in which they lived and moved. I divided this essay into two parts, the first briefly outlines the various types of sources relevant or simply available for writing Jewish history and the second provides suggestions and examples for the best ­methodological uses of that material.

A Companion to Late Ancient Jews and Judaism: Third Century bce to Seventh Century ce, First Edition. Edited by Naomi Koltun-Fromm and Gwynn Kessler. © 2020 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published 2020 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


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Types of Sources Literary and material sources abound for this period. While I mention the material sources briefly below, I will focus mostly on the literary and textual sources. The material sources are covered in several other essays in this Companion (e.g., Ahuvia, Kraemer, Stern, Baker, Mokhtarian, Lander (Chapter 27), Warren (Chapter 25), and Kattan Gribetz (Chapter 28)).

Hellenistic and Roman Texts In the middle of the twentieth century Menahem Stern collected, collated, and annotated the Greek and Latin Authors on Jews and Judaism (Stern 1976). In these volumes he brought together every mention of Jews or Judaism in the known corpus of Greek and Latin literature. Here, one can find extracts from Herodotus to Plutarch and from Tacitus to Simplicius covering Greco‐Roman history from the fifth century bce until the sixth century ce. While much social and political history has been constructed based on these texts, many of them more properly reflect what ancient Greco‐Roman authors knew about or thought about Jews, their history, culture and religion, rather than reflect historical reality. Natalie Dohrmann (Chapter 17) demonstrates for us how the comparison between Roman and rabbinic law codes helps us to understand the development of rabbinic legal thinking. Thus these sources prove most useful when they can corroborate other sources. I will bring several examples below.

Christian Texts While all of the texts in Stern’s collection can be classified as “Greco‐Roman,” many, starting in the second and third centuries ce can also be classified as “Christian.” Although it must be noted that once Christianity came on the scene, and even after the Roman empire became Christian in the late fourth and early fifth centuries, non‐Christian Greco‐Romans did not cease to exist, and nor did they stop writing. Thus, Stern’s collection reflects the available sources by both Christians and non‐Christians about Jews and Judaism to the sixth and seventh centuries. Yet, this collection does not, for instance, include the New Testament texts, because they do not easily fall into the categories of “Greco‐Roman,” nor for our purposes, “Christian.” The various texts that make up the New Testament are considered thoroughly “Christian” by most readers, but Christianity, like Judaism in this period, evolved and developed over centuries. Many of the authors of various texts within this corpus considered themselves to be Jews or Judaeans: Paul, Matthew, and even John of Patmos. Yet what they attempt to do in these texts is to articulate how they understand their Jewishness, their reformulated Judaism, their new theological thinking in the light of Jesus’ passion narrative. In many ways these authors assume their Jewishness even as they project a new understanding of what that means and how that affects their lives. Yet while we historians can uncover the “Jewishness” of these authors, over the decades and centuries their texts move forward into a new religious expression, an expression that eventually became known as Christianity. Thus, it is really only in the second generation of texts, the early patristic writings, in which we sense a real differentiation between “Jewish” and “Christian,”

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and a separate set of texts from which to study Late Ancient Judaism, of which nascent Christianity had been a part (Levine and Brettler 2010; see also Haney, Chapter 15). Patristic literature proves helpful in several ways. On the one hand, these authors often polemicize against what they call “Judaism,” allowing us to see both how early Christians differentiated themselves from what they labeled as “Judaism” and what that “Judaism” looked like, even as it is most likely not an accurate assessment of how Jews saw themselves. However, it is in the conversations between Jews and Christians about religious truth, the true Israel, scriptural interpretation, and God that we learn even more about how these late ancient authors thought. A comparison between Christian and Jewish ­theological and exegetical writings opens a window into the late ancient intellectual ­history in which both Jews and Christians participated. Christian writers, more numerous and more prolific than Jewish writers of this period, wrote their biblical exegesis mostly in the widespread Greco‐Roman rhetorical styles, ­particularly to combat criticism from anti‐Christian writers as well as gnostic theological challenges. Thus, the earliest Christian writers composed apologia, literary defenses of Christianity, which drew deeply on biblical exegesis (Hirshman 1996). While most apologia faced‐off with Greco‐Roman philosophy, cultic practices, and gnostic theology, several also polemicized against Jewish biblical interpretation as well. We will look at two of these authors below, Justin Martyr and Aphrahat. Over the centuries Christians expanded their literary repertoire to include various forms of exegetical output (homiletic collections, anthologies of sermons on particular biblical passages, and vast amounts of liturgical writings) as well as histories, martyrologies, philosophical tracts, and geographical chronographs. Eusebius, for instance, the Metropolitan of Caesarea (c. 260–340 ce), composed a History of the Church, several exegetical works, and the Onomasticon, a geography of the Holy Land in the form of a lexicon of biblical place names. The rabbis, on the other hand, kept to one genre of biblical interpretation: midrash (even as this category can be subdivided, often as legal [halakha] and non‐legal [agaddah]). Marc Hirshman argues that the very genre these groups choose as their own occurs within this same cultural matrix. The rabbis, in an attempt to carve out a place for themselves and to distinguish themselves from other theological and exegetical writers, limit themselves to the midrashic genre, while Christian writers, following their Greco‐Roman forebears, express themselves in multiform genres such as apologia, poetry, letters, biographies, and histories (Hirshman 1996, p. 10). Nevertheless, all these late ancient writers (Jewish, Christian, and others), who put the Bible and its interpretation at the center of their literary efforts, did so from within the larger cultural matrix of the Greco‐Roman or Persian worlds. They also approached their task as an effort to establish themselves as authorities within their own developing and changing communities as well as to construct borders between these communities. Thus, it is most often in the aggregation as well as comparison of all of this exegetical work that we can better understand the rabbis’ theological and midrashic compositions.

Peshitta and Syriac Christian Authors While most late ancient Christian writers composed in Greek and Latin, many other Christians wrote in their less common native tongues, such as Coptic, Armenian, and Syriac. While these collections are equally vast, they have been less studied because of the language


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barriers. However, as a comparative to the rabbinic corpus, the Syriac corpus proves interesting because of the linguistic similarities. The Syriac Christian writers not only wrote in their native tongue, a dialect of Aramaic, and thus related to talmudic Aramaic, but they also read their Bible in that language as well. Some parts of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament were most likely translated into Syriac by the end of the third century ce, probably in the city of Edessa (modern day Urfa in SE Turkey). While this biblical text became known as the Peshitta and served as a central and unifying text among many Syriac speaking communities, it probably originated within the Jewish community that had settled in Northern Mesopotamia several centuries prior. Like the Septuagint, which was translated to support the Jewish community in Alexandria, the Peshitta, or some form thereof, grew out of a need for a vernacular text for Jewish consumption in Northern Mesopotamia. Yet after the rise of Christianity both of these biblical translations, the Peshitta and the Septuagint, became central exclusively to Christian exegeting communities. For our purposes here, the importance of the Peshitta translation is twofold. On the one hand, if as Weitzmann argues, it was translated directly from a Hebrew Vorlage, it captures for us the state of the Hebrew text in Northern Mesopotamia in the first centuries of the common era (Weitzman 1999). A close study of the Peshitta shows that text not to be exactly like the one that underlies the Septuagint, nor an exact rendition of the biblical texts found at the Dead Sea. Thus, we have more evidence for the dynamic nature and diversity of the biblical tradition and its manuscripts, without recourse to those originals in the first centuries of the common era. In addition, the earliest extant Peshitta manuscripts preserve several apocryphal texts in their fullest form. 2 Baruch, though partially extant in other languages, is found in its fullest form only in the Syriac. 4 Ezra is found only in full in Latin and Syriac. Both texts were most likely composed in Hebrew soon after 70 ce as theological reactions to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, but those originals have been lost to us. On the other hand, Syriac, a late Aramaic dialect belonging to the northwest Semitic language family, remains distinct from, yet carries, many semantic, syntactic, linguistic, and philological affinities with rabbinic and talmudic Aramaic. Not only could a rabbi, fluent in Hebrew and rabbinic Aramaic, read and understand a Syriac text, but the very nature of his biblical hermeneutics would be similarly influenced by the closeness of the two languages and the biblical texts they studied. Thus, even as late ancient Christian and Jewish writers made great attempts to differentiate between these two developing categories of “Jew” and “Christian,” often through competitive biblical interpretation, the Syriac Christian writers retained many affinities to rabbinic writers in their approaches and readings of text. Hence, it is in the comparison between the two that we can learn much about Jewish exegesis (as well as Christian) in this period, but also how the two communities necessarily interacted, if only intellectually on the pages of their own books, within a larger cultural linguistic matrix.

Papyri and Inscriptions In this volume, Karen Stern, Cynthia Baker, Shira Lander, and Meredith Warner (among others) show how inscriptions and papyri, both Jewish and other, serve as useful, but often limited, sources for writing Jewish history. They also point out the difficulties sometimes

Non‐Jewish Sources for Late Ancient Jewish History


of marking a text as clearly Jewish or not. However, some papyri collections clearly come from Jewish sources, such as the Persian period Elephantine stash found in upper Egypt (see Stern, Chapter 7). Other collections, though not specifically “Jewish,” or even clearly not, such as the papyri from Oxyrhynchus, help through the comparative mode. Most of this material was found in a garbage dump of this ancient town on the Nile and comprises shopping lists, letters, and other personal materials opening up windows into the everyday life of the city’s inhabitants from the third century bce through the seventh century ce. While only a few of the texts were composed in Hebrew, the composite picture of the city’s make‐up can help illustrate everyday life for all of its inhabitants. Similarly, some inscriptions can be identified as Jewish, but others cannot. The Persian Kartir inscription, though clearly referencing Jews, among other minority communities under early Sasanian rule, does not tell us much more about any of these communities (see Mohktarian, Chapter 9). Thus, non‐Jewish sources often prove most productive when studied within larger historical, literary, or cultural contexts.

Methodologies If Jewish textual and material sources can tell us about Jews and Judaism from the “inside,” what can we learn from non‐Jewish sources? Here I will show several methodologies that have been productively used in the exploration of late ancient Jewish social, cultural, and intellectual history. Due to limits of space I will focus on textual examples, for material examples are well covered in other essays in this Companion.

“New” Data Some parts of Jewish history can only be reconstructed from non‐Jewish sources. For example, the diasporic Jewish revolt under the Roman emperor Trajan (c. 115 ce) is only recorded in Roman historical sources. Dio Cassius records that the Jews of Egypt and Cyrenaica, Cyprus, and Mesopotamia almost simultaneously revolted against their Greek neighbors (Stern 1976, vol. 2, pp. 385–390; Hist. Rom. 68.32). The reasons vary, but it seems very much to have been caused by deteriorating relationships and social conditions in the Diaspora that provoked this revolt, as Judaea seems not to have been involved, though some scholars suggest that the failure of the First Revolt left a trail of messianic expectations elsewhere in the Diaspora (Schäfer 1995). Trajan, however, concerned mostly for the internal stability of his empire and relations with Parthia (against whom he had just conducted a military campaign), sent his general Lusius Quietus to repress the Mesopotamian rebellion, which he accomplished rather ruthlessly according to the sources. These details are repeated in Eusebius (Williamson 1965, pp. 154–155; Hist. Eccl. 4.2). Except for Josephus, who wrote in the first century ce, and thus before this revolt, few Jewish historical writings remain; that is, the Jewish writings we have from this time period were not written for the purpose of preserving historical narrative. The early rabbis, active during the very same decades as these Diaspora revolts occurred, show little interest in providing historical accounts of revolts. They were not interested in writing history as we understand it, but in creating a new religious framework for living in the world as Jews under new conditions. Thus they


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turned inward and toward interpreting biblical texts to further those ends. Hence, without Dio Cassius or Eusebius we would not know about this particular revolt. Nevertheless, references to historical moments or figures surface in rabbinic literature, that often remain misunderstood unless compared to the non‐Jewish sources. Second and third century Palestinian rabbinic sources, for instance, reference a war under “Qitus” (m. Sotah 9: 14 [Cambridge ed]; S. ‘Olam Rab. 30), which may indeed refer to Quietus’ campaign in Mesopotamia (Gafni 1990, pp. 29–30; Schäfer 1995, p. 141), but gives us no historical context. Surprisingly, the trope of rebellious Jews, a well‐worn literary trope in Christian literature, might also, on one occasion, point to this same episode. In the Narration of Simeon bar Sabba’e, a fourth century Syriac-Christian text, we find the following narrative, embedded within a retelling of Julian’s attempt to rebuild the Jerusalem Temple: Indeed, many [Jews (Syr: yehudayeh)] went up and began to dig up the foundations of Jerusalem. While these things were happening, a charlatan came to the land of the Persians and called to all the Jews and said, “The time for the Return [to Jerusalem] as appointed by the prophets [Dan. 9: 25; Isa. 27: 13] is at hand and I am commanded by God to proclaim to you the Return and to ascend.” The imposter came also to Mahoza, in Bet Aramaye, and led astray thousands of Jews who set out and left Mahoza in the hope of the Return and they went three parasangs from the city. When word of their departure reached King Shapur he sent out a force and destroyed many thousands of them. (Smith 2014, p. 90; The Narration of Simeon bar Sabba’e, pp. 14–15)

This fourth or fifth century ce Syriac Christian martyrology, which records the life and death of the bishop of Ctesiphon, Simeon bar Sabba’e, includes a narrative of Julian’s failed attempt to rebuild the Jerusalem Temple, to re‐emphasize the point that the Jews have been, and will always be, defeated; every time they try to rise up, they are struck down. As they were struck down at the time of Julian, so they were also in Mahoza. What is interesting here is that the only known rebellion of Jews in Mesopotamia is that which was put down by Quietus in the time of Trajan. This might then be a reference to that rebellion, as preserved in the memory of Persian Syriac‐speaking Christians in the fourth century. However, it functions as another “historical” event that fits the paradigm of Jews continually failing to re‐establish themselves as a legitimate political entity in this world, because of their failure to become Christians. While Dio Cassius’ history remains our only full record for these events, his text also helps us illuminate and understand other seemingly obscure references in other ancient texts, both Jewish and Christian. The Itinerary of the Pilgrim of Bordeaux also presents us with an interesting data point to consider. This fourth century Christian pilgrim composed a travelogue as a literary attempt to take possession of all of Jerusalem as a Christian town. While he mentions Golgotha, the empty tomb, and the Constantinian buildings under construction (the Church of the Holy Sepulcher) in the year he visited, 333, he actually spends more time exploring the temple mount. There he visualizes and marks out Christian sites of veneration, such as Solomon’s pools, the place of Jesus’ temptation, and the rejected cornerstone, all based on New Testament narratives and biblical interpretations, yet he also notes that the Jews come once a year to anoint a particular stone and mourn for their lost

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t­emple. While both Jerome and Barsauma in the next centuries also indicate that Jews come to Jerusalem and even ascended the temple mount once a year to mourn (and that this practice was contested by the authorities or other community members), no Jewish texts, rabbinic or otherwise, make the same claim (Eliav 2005, p. 192). The non‐Jewish sources repeatedly indicate that Jews attended organized mourning sessions in Jerusalem or on the temple mount and even repeatedly petitioned the authorities for more accessibility. While some of this reportage clearly bears a Christian anti‐Jewish bias, the Jewish sources never mention these attempts (Tsafrir 2009). Some rabbinic texts claim that rabbis walked across the temple mount, as if taking a short‐cut (Sifre Deut. 43), or that they congregated on the Mount of Olives to mourn, but not on the temple mount itself. Thus, the Bordeaux Pilgrim’s witness to this obscure ritual can mean but one of two things: non‐rabbinic Jews participated in this ritual and/or that the rabbis disapproved of this sort of ritual, or that these Christian writers made up this detail, the Bordeaux Pilgrim in particular. The image of Jews mourning on the temple mount for their lost and irretrievable (according to the Christians) temple would make a picture perfect tableaux for Christian eyes: “Look! This is where Jesus was tempted; this is where the Jews mourn their lost temple!” Such a sight visually reinforced the Christian supercessionist theology that stated that the Jews were replaced by the Christians in God’s grace. Jerome, a fifth-century Christian writer, is particularly harsh in his depiction of the Jews, contrasting their filthy rags to the sparkling dome of the Holy Sepulcher (Comm. on Zeph.; Tsafrir 2005, 86).

Corroborative Data While Christian writers over the centuries wrote much about Jews and Judaism, very little can be construed as accurate portrayals of Jews in those centuries, for these writers often used Jews to “think” with rather than to record social or religious historical facts. Often we can learn more about how Christians think than about actual Jews from Christian descriptions of Jews and Judaism. Andrew Jacobs demonstrates how the intense interest that Christian pilgrims showed to Old Testament or “Jewish” sites in the Holy Land was not just to commemorate those ancient heroes but to take over those sites and heroes as exclusively Christian sites and heroes. The stories the pilgrim texts tell of encounters with Jews at these sites cannot therefore tell us anything about “real” Jews in those geographic parts and years, but rather show Christians conquering the land, the biblical narrative (and the religion) over and over again (Jacobs 2004). This sort of data must be taken in context; not every reference to Jews or Judaism within a Christian text reflects social or historical reality. This is particularly true in the polemical contexts in which the martyrology texts prove a good test case. The same narration of Simeon bar Sabba’e notes that the Jews were heavily involved in the accusation of the bishop and his execution. This need not and should not be taken as historical fact, as the trope of Jewish complicity in Christian deaths begins with the very narratives of Jesus’ death in the New Testament. Thus, this martyrology pulls on that same trope to say a similar thing about Simeon—he died like Jesus died—for God and Christianity, and the Jews are to blame. An earlier martyrology of Polycarp makes the same claim using the same trope. A similar self‐reflective cultural bias can be found in the earlier Hellenistic and Roman literature. As Yair Furstenburg points out in the next essay, the earliest Hellenistic writers


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often couched their knowledge of Jews, their political situation and religious beliefs, in terms of what they knew and understood, not necessarily how the Jews might have described themselves. For many of these early centuries the Jewish voices are absent and scholars have to rely, in part, on non‐Jewish sources. Nevertheless, by the first century ce, Philo and Josephus, two thoroughly Hellenized first‐century Jews, both use those same Hellenistic literary strategies to describe their community, culture, and religious beliefs to Greeks and Romans. Hecataeus of Abdera (c. 300 bce) claims that Moses, a great and wise leader, led his people from Egypt to Judaea and there founded Jerusalem and built its shrine (Stern 1976, vol. 1, p. 28). While this account basically follows the biblical narrative, it molds Moses into a Hellenistic model as all great Hellenistic leaders founded cities. Philo, four centuries later, describes Moses, not only as an excellent leader, who earned the adulation and support of the people, but also as an ascetic Hellenistic philosopher who disciplines his mind and body for the sake of that leadership and his relationship with his god (Moses 2.68–69). However, not every notice of Jews or Judaism in a non‐Jewish text need be dismissed out of hand, especially if there is corroborating data. Often the non‐Jewish source is an additional piece of a larger mosaic of information that helps us build a more accurate historical picture. Concerning the settlement of Jews in Edessa, in Northern Mesopotamia, we have local funerary inscriptions, talmudic references to merchants on the trade routes that traversed this town, as well as references within an early Christian text, the Docrina Addai (Koltun‐Fromm 2011, p. 54). While much of what we know about the Maccabean period comes out of the biblical and apocryphal books of the Maccabees, Josephus retells that history by recourse not just to those books but to outside sources available to him, and consequently preserved for us, such as those of Nicholas of Damascus and Strabo of Amaseia. The corroborating elements among the biblical, apocryphal, Josephan, and other sources, when examined together, help provide a more complete historical picture.

Comparative Data In a Companion volume such as this, focused entirely on Jews and Judaism, a comparative project between late ancient Jewish, Greco‐Roman, Persian, and Christian sources is a project interested in learning something specific about rabbis, rabbinic writings, Jews, or Judaism, by placing the rabbis and Jews within a larger cultural context. Both Jason Mokhtarian and Sara Ronis, for instance, show how situating Babylonian rabbinic texts within the material and literary culture of Persia illuminates the interconnectedness of Jewish culture with Persian culture (see Mokhtarian, Chapter 9 and Ronis, Chapter 24). Furthermore, as I will demonstrate below, the comparison of Jewish and Christian texts, across Greek, Roman, and Persian cultures further enhances our understanding of how Jews fit in or resisted their larger cultural matrices. Hence, it is my purpose here to show how we can learn something about the development of early rabbinic Judaism, its intellectual struggles and encounters, and exegetical adventures, by comparing our rabbinic texts to contemporaneous Christian exegetic texts, particularly, but not exclusively, the anti‐Jewish polemical texts. Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho remains perhaps the most famous “Jewish– Christian” dialogue of the late ancient period. Justin, a second century Greco‐Roman

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convert to Christianity, who, according to his own testimony, hailed from Neopolis (Nablus), composed several apologia, defending his understanding of the Christian “philosophy” against Greco‐Roman and Jewish critics. The Dialogue purports to be a conversation Justin conducted with a Judaean, a recent refugee from battle‐worn Judaea, in the years after the Bar Kokhba revolt (132–136 ce) in Ephesus. Although Justin constructs his text as a faithful recording of a historical dialogue, this is most likely a fiction. While Trypho, the Judaean, voices opinions, they remain controlled and unconvincing, for the text serves Justin’s ultimate purpose of presenting Christianity not just as a worthy and competitive philosophy in the Greco‐Roman intellectual market but specifically as the superior, and superseding, biblically based religion. In fact, Justin is one of the first Christian writers to attempt to construct borders between what he considers new, different, and better in Christianity as opposed to what he thinks of as Judaism. Justin creates a “Judaism” as much as a “Christianity” with which to compare it (Boyarin 2004, p. 34). Justin’s Dialogue, more than recording a moment in time, sets an agenda of separation and distinction. Thus, this text cannot be used as a data set concerning what Jews believed in the mid‐second century, but rather what one Christian author projected on to Jews, in order to better position Christianity among and above all other Greco‐Roman philosophies. Moreover, as Daniel Boyarin argues, the discursive process of setting “Christianity” against “Judaism” and orthodox Christianity against other (“heretical”) Christianities also helps illuminate how the early rabbis attempted a similar discursive move recorded in the tannaitic literature. That is, rabbis also participated in a practice of defining “orthodox” Judaism against what they considered heretical Judaisms (Boyarin 2004), which we learn through a careful comparison of Justin Martyr to early rabbinic texts. As a comparative example, Boyarin points to two texts which suggest that both Justin and some rabbis considered certain exegetical and theological positions to be heretical. On the exegetical question which arises out of Genesis 1: 26 and 3: 22, to whom does the text refer to when it refers to “us”? (“Let us make humans in our image”; “Adam has become like one of us”), Justin suggests that some Jews say that God spoke to the angels. Justin both rejects this suggestion, in favor of his own interpretation (the “us” equals the Logos, or Jesus), but also suggests that “real” Jews do not make this claim either. The Mekhilta de Rabbi Ishmael, a third century tannaitic text, makes a similar claim, for when the angel solution is suggested there as an understanding of “us” in Genesis 3: 22, Rabbi Akibah resoundedly rejects this position. This is not to say that Rabbi Akibah and Justin agree on the correct interpretation, they do not, but only that they set similar boundaries around their own interpretations (Boyarin 2004, pp. 40–41). Another example of comparative exegesis within the larger Christian–Jewish polemic/ exchange may prove useful. Psalm 22, in parts or as a whole, appear(s) as prooftexts for the truth of Jesus’ passion in the New Testament texts. That is, several New Testament authors pull on various verses of this psalm to suggest prophetic foreknowledge of Jesus’ life, death, and salvific role. For instance, in John 19: 23–24, the soldiers cast lots for Jesus’ tunic, and the text tells us that is because this action was foretold in Psalm 22: 18 (“they parted my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots”). While the whole of the psalm may have assumed some christological meaning early on, the first time it is used as a whole as such is in Justin Martyr’s Dialogue. However, while constructing a


Naomi Koltun‐Fromm

verse by verse exegesis, Justin focuses particularly on v. 17c (“they pierced my hands and feet,” in the Greek) which does not appear in the New Testament texts. This text comes to the fore, in particular, because he finds it definitive to his argument that the whole of the verse, and therefore the whole psalm, refers to Jesus and not to King David, the presumed author of the text, for David, according to the biblical narrative, never suffered having his hands and feet pierced. It is one thing to argue that the text refers to Jesus, yet another to also argue that it cannot possibly refer to David, all evidence to the contrary (David being the assumed author by biblical and post‐biblical Jewish and Christian traditions). Obviously for Justin, it was just as important to claim both: the text, though penned by David, can only refer to Jesus. This may have been because as the purported author, many readers simply assumed the verses referred to David’s personal experience. The Dialogue hammers home Justin’s main objective: correct reading of the text (Justin’s) leads to better understanding of the Scriptures’ meaning (prediction of Jesus’ life and passion). Since this exegesis appears in his Dialogue with Trypho, Justin places it within the context of a Jewish–Christian debate on the true meaning of Scripture, whether or not Jews took part in his debate, but with intent to persuade his readers. Echoes of this very debate can be found in later Christian writings and even in the rabbinic literature. Aphrahat, a Syriac Christian author of the fourth century, brings forward a similar argument in his polemic against the Jews. Again, there is little evidence that his text reflects a real social engagement with Jews on points of theology, but rather an imagined discourse around true belief and correct scriptural interpretation, provoked by anxieties of “where divine truth lies” and who “owns” Scripture. Aphrahat proves an interesting case in the history of Christian writings about Jews, for his polemic, similar to Justin’s, purports to be in dialogue or reportage of “real” encounters with Jews but is most likely fictional as well. However, he writes from within the geographic bastion of Babylonian rabbinic productions, in the same century that many rabbis of the Babylonian Talmud flourished (fourth century ce). Moreover, he writes in Syriac, a Christian Aramaic quite similar to the rabbis’ talmudic Aramaic. Similar to Justin, Aphrahat focuses on Psalm 22: 17c as key to his interpretation. The verse cannot refer to David, for he died of old age. Nor can it refer to Saul, for he was already dead when hung on the Gates of Beth‐Shean. Hence, he did not suffer the pain of hanging, as Jesus clearly did. Both Trypho and Aphrahat argue that if only the Jews (or, rather, these texts’ Christian audience) understood the correct interpretation of the biblical text, they would understand the correct import of these psalmic verses. David may have written them, but he was merely serving as a divine oracle for a later event. The rabbis shared many of the same anxieties surrounding the limits of interpretation of Scripture. Their very midrashic activity focused on illuminating the many ways the biblical text could be interpreted, and yet not all interpretations could be entertained. While most rabbinic texts remain self‐contained, at times we can uncover rabbinic knowledge and even polemic with Christian tropes and interpretation. For instance, the Palestinian Talmud records a strange use of Ps. 22: 21: A certain saintly man was walking along the way, and saw two men having sexual relations with a female dog. They said, “we know that he is a saintly man, and he will go and testify against us and our master, David, will put us to death. But let us move first and give testimony

Non‐Jewish Sources for Late Ancient Jewish History


against him. They testified [falsely] against him and he was tried and condemned to death. That is the meaning of that which David said, “Deliver my soul from the sword, my only‐one from the power of the dog!” (Ps. 22: 21). From the sword—from the sword of Uriah; from the dog—from the dog of a holy man. [y. Sanh. 6.3]

On the one hand, one could understand this anecdote as a push back on the application of any verse from Psalm 22 to anyone other than the purported author, David. However, the absurdity (to say nothing of the vulgarity) of the example also suggests, on the other, that this anecdote specifically mocks or makes rude fun of other uses of the verse. This exegetical interlude suggests that the sexually deviant protagonists not only kill an innocent man, but cause harm and suffering to David himself. Although I may be reading too much into this narrative, the fact that the rabbis focus, again, on Psalm 22, suggests they were aware of how it was interpreted in Christian circles and strike back: misinterpretation equates to murder! The rabbis do not just assert their own understanding, that David authored and experienced the verses, but, pointedly, if perhaps obnoxiously, put down any opposing views. Comparative exegesis can also illuminate how related yet competing communities police their religious borders. Ritual practice also helps a community define its communal boundaries; one acknowledges one’s membership in a particular community by participating in its various rituals, often around lifecycle events (birth, marriage, death). However, liturgical practices can also map out boundaries in everyday life. The practices of Passover and Easter are a good example, but particularly in how they were enacted, or remembered as being enacted, in Jerusalem. The New Testament narrative connects the last earthly days of Jesus to the Passover rituals performed in Jerusalem, particularly the paschal sacrifice and its ritualized community meal. Yet throughout late ancient Jewish and Christian literature, both Jews and Christians contested those very rituals, and particularly what was proper for “Jews” or “Christians” to celebrate. A Babylonian rabbinic text provides a case in point: An Aramean [non‐Jew] that used to go and eat the paschal sacrifice in Jerusalem said, “it is written ‘no foreigners shall eat of it’ (Exod. 12: 43) ‘no uncircumcised shall eat of it’ (Exod. 12:44) and here am I who ate from the best parts!” Rabbi Yehuda ben Batira said to him, “did they give you a piece from the tail?” He answered, “no.” [Then R. Yehuda ben Batira told him], “When you go there say to them: ‘Give me from the tail.’” So, when he went there [again] he said to them: “Give me from the tail.” They said to him, “but the tail goes up to the High One.” So they asked of him, “Who told you thus?” He said to them, “Yehuda ben Batira.” Then they said [to themselves], “what have we here?” They checked into his background and found out that he was an Aramean and killed him. They sent to Rabbi Yehuda ben Batira [a compliment], “Shalom to you Rabbi Yehuda ben Batira, who is in Nisibis, but your net is spread out in Jerusalem.” [b. Pesah. 3b]

In this text, a non‐Jew attempts to “pass” as a Jew and take part in the Temple ritual on Passover. He is of course caught out and severely punished (killed!). This passage, while surely not historical, reflects rabbinic anxieties on two fronts: (1) control of correct ritual behavior and (2) control of access to God through that behavior. This text, only found in the Babylonian Talmud, certainly reflects concerns about differentiating


Naomi Koltun‐Fromm

Jewish ritual behavior from others, most likely Christians. The location of the Aramean in Nisibis points in that direction, as that city had a large and flourishing Christian population by the fourth century, while the Jewish population peaked in the second century and dwindled thereafter, in part, no doubt because of the Christian population. Moreover, in these very years, and particularly in the mid‐fourth century, Jerusalem, former home to God’s (Jewish) temple, finally had a new temple—but a Christian one—the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Christians flocked as pilgrims to this temple, particularly at Easter, because of its holy character and connection to the salvific gospel narrative. Eusebius, in describing the building of this church complex, even calls this new building project a new temple, a new Jerusalem, one that stands against, and above (both literally and figuratively), and replaces the old destroyed Jerusalem sanctuary: New Jerusalem was built at the very Testimony to the Savior, facing the famous Jerusalem of old, which after the bloody murder of the Lord had been overthrown in utter devastation, and paid the penalty of its wicked inhabitants. Opposite this then the Emperor erected the victory of the Savior over death with rich and abundant munificence, this being perhaps that fresh new Jerusalem proclaimed in prophetic oracles, about which long speeches recite innumerable praises as they utter words of divine inspiration. (Cameron and Hall 1999, Life of Constantine, 3.33.1–2)

Eusebius argues here that the Jewish Temple, which was God’s house, has been superseded, not just by divine decree (the destruction) but by imperial decree (Constantine’s new basilica). For the new building is equally a divine‐house as it contains the main witness to Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection: the empty tomb. Divine access, once controlled by the Israelite priesthood and its cultic ritual in the Jerusalem Temple, has now moved across town to the church, and its ritual practices, according to Eusebius and Christian thinkers like him. Thus, Egeria, a fourth century pilgrim, can describe the extensive Christian Easter liturgy, which, according to Christian understanding, supersedes temple liturgy and sacrificial rites, taking place in the temple‐replacement building, the Church. The above cited Babylonian rabbinic text may be an attempt to push back on that line of thinking. According to the rabbis, the biblical rules and regulations, including sacrificial worship in the temple, were given to the Jews and guarantee them, not others, divine access. The interloping Aramaen does not get away with “passing” as a Jew. There can be no non‐Jewish temple in Jerusalem. In sum, Jewish history must be written from a plurality of source types, both Jewish and non‐Jewish. At times the non‐Jewish sources are all we have, and they can be used productively to fill in gaps in our knowledge from other sources. Often, however, the non‐ Jewish sources corroborate and expand on what we do know from Jewish sources, even illuminating otherwise obscure references. The comparative method between Jewish and non‐Jewish sources, particularly the Christian exegetical texts, helps illustrate not only Jewish ways of thinking and being in late ancient cultural contexts, but helps demonstrate the broader historical, cultural, and religious picture in which these late ancient communities lived and developed.

Non‐Jewish Sources for Late Ancient Jewish History


REFERENCES Boyarin, Daniel (2004). Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo‐Christianity. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press. Cameron, Averil and Hall, Stuart G, (1999). Eusebius: Life of Constantine. Oxford: The Clarendon Press. Eliav, Yaron. Z. (2005). God’s Mountain: The Temple Mount in Time, Place and Memory. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press. Gafni, Isaiah M. (1990). The Jews of Babylonia in the Talmudic Era: A Social and Cultural History. Jerusalem: Zalman Shazar Center. Graffin, R. and Kmosko, M. (eds.) (1907). The Narration of Shimon bar Sabba, Patrologia Syriaca, vol. I.2. Paris: Firmin‐Didot. Hirshman, Marc (1996). A Rivalry of Genius: Jewish and Christian Biblical Interpretation in Late Antiquity. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. Jacobs, Andrew S. (2004). Remains of the Jews: The Holy Land and Christian Empire in Late Antiquity. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Koltun‐Fromm, Naomi (2011). Jewish‐Christian Conversation in Fourth‐Century Persian Mesopotamia. Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press. Levine, Amy‐Jill and Brettler, Marc (eds.) (2010). The Jewish Annotated New Testament. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. Schäfer, Peter (1995). The History of the Jews in Antiquity. Australia and the United States: Harwood Academic Publishers. Smith, Kyle (2014). The Martyrdom and History of Blessed Simeon Bar Sabba’e. Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press. Stern, Menahem (1976). Greek and Latin Authors on Jews and Judaism (GLAJJ), 2 vols. Jerusalem: The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities. Tsafrir, Yoram (2009). 70–638: The temple‐less mountain. In: Where Heaven and Earth Meet: Jerusalem’s Sacred Esplanade (eds. Oleg Grabar and Benjamin Z. Kedar), 72–99. Austin Texas, TX: University of Texas Press. Weitzman, Michael (1999). The Syriac Version of the Old Testament: An Introduction. Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press. Williamson, G.A. (1965). Eusebius: The History of the Church. Middlesex, UK: Penguin Books.




Contesting Identities: The Splitting Channels from Israelite to Jew Yair Furstenberg

Introduction According to Josephus, Izates, king of Adiabene in northern Mesopotamia (beginning of the first century, ce), discovered the customs of the Jews (Greek: Ioudaioi, see below) through Ananias, a merchant who taught the women of the kingdom to worship God in accordance with the ancestral ways of the Jews. Following his mother, Izates also adopted the rites of the Jews. Furthermore, he even wanted to be circumcised in order to “really” become a Jew, but his mother feared that their subjects would object to their king adopting foreign customs. His teacher, Ananias, reassured him that he could worship God without circumcising himself, as long as he was zealous for the Jews’ ancestral ways. Apparently, Izates was not fully comfortable with the decision, for when Eleazar of the Galilee arrived, he convinced Izates that he must fully comply with all of God’s laws, and so Izates was circumcised despite his mother’s strident protest (Ant. 20.34–47). Admittedly, this story is quite puzzling. In what sense did the king of Adiabene want to become a “Jew”? Did he think it was possible to worship God according to the traditions of others without joining these people? How can we explain the fundamental disputes concerning the nature of this transformation? We moderns, at least, are used to thinking of a defined conversion process, which traditionally includes circumcision for men as well as ritual immersion, as a result of which a person becomes part of a clearly defined ethnic entity. Izates’ story, however, does not fit easily into such conventions. Scholarly debates concerning the title Ioudaios in this and in other contemporaneous texts, whether it should be translated as Judaean or as Jew, clearly reflect the conceptual confusion. Following standard divisions in the Greco‐Roman world, one would primarily belong to an ethnos, a people coming from a specific place, shaped by its environment, habits, A Companion to Late Ancient Jews and Judaism: Third Century bce to Seventh Century ce, First Edition. Edited by Naomi Koltun-Fromm and Gwynn Kessler. © 2020 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published 2020 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


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traditions, and laws. There were complex familial and historical relations between these groups, but nonetheless the ethnic framework organized their world‐view. Thus, even if one was displaced from one’s homeland in Judaea, one would regularly still belong to the people of Judaea, as a Judaean (as would an Athenian, a Spartan, a Syrian, etc.). At the same time, is this indeed the most appropriate description of Izates’ actions and motivations? Wasn’t he, as many others in the Roman world, attracted primarily to the cult of the true God, irrespective of the people who maintained it? If so, his conversion is comparable to joining a philosophical school, and the title ‘Jew,’ which has come to represent a predominantly religious form of affiliation, based on personal choice, parallel to ‘Christian’ and ‘Muslim,’ would be more appropriate. Admittedly, Ioudaios is a complex term that carries an array of overtones that have accumulated over time, with the change of political and cultural contexts and the rise of religious movements and new forms of identity. Some scholars apply different terms in order to grasp the change of identity between regions and periods (see Shaye Cohen, below in the section on Hellenism and the Birth of “Judaism”). Here, I will maintain the standard term ‘Jew,’ which in my view best denotes the accumulative dynamics of the Greek Ioudaios and Hebrew Yehudi, unless relating specifically to the regional affiliation (Mason 2007; Schwartz 2014; Marginalia 2014). While the ancients did not face such terminological doubts, they did, however, share Izates’ dilemma concerning the nature of becoming ‘truly a Jew.’ A very similar issue confronted another group a number of years later, and their opposite decision, not to circumcise, had a profound influence on the world as we know it. Around the year 50 ce, Jesus’ apostles gathered in Jerusalem together with the Church Elders to discuss whether Gentiles joining the congregation of Jesus’ followers were required to circumcise. Finally, it was maintained that gentile believers in Jesus did not need to fulfill the commandments in order to merit salvation and acquire the Holy Spirit, while Jews continued to maintain the laws of Moses (Acts 15: 1–21). This watershed event in the history of the Church is occasionally seen as the point of separation between Judaism and Christianity. At the same time, as apparent from the case of Izates, the question that Jesus’ disciples debated reflects the current possibilities Gentiles had for participating in the worship of the God of the Jews and in their traditions (Schwartz 1996). There was no agreed upon definition of who was a Jew among the ancients, and these disputes, as well as others we will encounter, show that the parameters themselves were subject to debate, and were in constant flux. Identity is always a complex and blurry issue, but the issue here is not that of boundaries alone, but the very nature of this group, as reflected in the changing weight of its different components and their rearrangement. We will identify subtle shifts between various components of Jewish identity: ethnic‐tribal affiliation, local identity, participation in cult, association of legal nature, and a form of a religious institution. Such labels give us a general impression of the degree of change, but they themselves are context‐dependent, and we must carefully follow their meaning and function in antiquity (for a critique of earlier paradigms see Schwartz 2011). Here we will focus on the major stations in the development of such components of Jewish identity over the course of a millennium. The transition between different imperial frameworks and the rise of diverse religious systems not only provoked new ways to determine who is “truly a Jew” but they also revealed deep tensions and inconsistencies.

Contesting Identities


The Heritage of Ezra The ancient Israelite tribes of the pre‐exilic kingdoms of Israel and Judah (c. 1000–586 bce) viewed themselves as belonging to one family, with a shared history of settlement in the land of Canaan and an exclusive cult of Yahweh, their god. This basically coherent Israelite identity broke down into distinct components in the new situation following the exile and return (586–538 bce). The appearance of a new mix of population in Judaea alongside the exposure of other ethnic groups both in Judaea and in Babylonia to the Israelite cult created a variety of core identities that entailed competing political and cultic arrangements. During the period following the destruction of the Temple and exile to Babylonia (586 bce), a complex array of groups resided in the area of Judaea with varying degrees of relation to the ancient kingdoms of Judah and Israel (Japhet 2006: pp. 96–116). Some residents of the Kingdom of Judah had remained after the destruction of the First Temple, and they saw themselves as superior to the “returnees from exile” (Ezek. 11: 15). Some residents of the Kingdom of Israel remained in Samaria and the Galilee after the destruction of the Northern Kingdom and continued to worship the Israelite God. In addition, a foreign population brought to Samaria by the Assyrian kingdom assimilated into the local population and adopted its religious customs (2 Kings 17: 24–41). All these groups adhered to the Israelite God and saw themselves as descending from the historical tribes of Israel. As a result, they did not refrain from marrying among each other. In the year 538 bce, the Persian king Cyrus allowed the exiles from the Kingdom of Judah to re‐establish their temple cult in Jerusalem, in what was currently the Persian province of Judaea. About one hundred years later, Ezra the Scribe joined the reconstruction efforts, with the support of the Persian government. He came from Babylonia with imperial financing for the Jerusalem Temple, as well as recognition for the officials of the Temple. However, when Ezra arrived in Jerusalem, he dedicated his energies to repairing the Judaean population, as he viewed it, rather than the Temple. He discovered that the priests had married locals outside the community of returnees, referred to by Ezra as “people of the land” (ammei ha’aretz). Horrified by this fact, he compared these marriages to intermarriage with the abominable Canaanite nations. He was not prepared to accept the social reality in the land of Israel, and he felt compelled to enforce on the residents of Judaea a new conception of Israel, in which only those of the “holy seed” belonged. “Holy seed” denoted the strict observance of genealogical purity, that is those that had experienced the exile (Ezra 9: 2). Ezra commanded the priests to divorce their “foreign” wives and their children, in order to preserve this newly defined “holy seed.” This element became the sole criterion for belonging to the people of Israel according to Ezra (Ezra 9–10). This, however, was only one of a few competing responses to the Judaean experience of exile and return to a new demographic situation. In contrast, the universally oriented prophecies of Second Isaiah, who flourished during the days of Cyrus the Great, reflect an alternative vision of Israelite identity created in the exile. Having witnessed the impact of Israelite cult in Babylonia he encouraged Gentiles to join Israelite believers in their worship of God. His words reflect enthusiasm for Israelite ritual in general and Shabbat in particular, on the part of the Persian elite (Isaiah 56: 4–9). Isaiah bids them not to fear separatist movements (relating to precursors of the Ezra


Yair Furstenberg

movement), though he is well aware that ritual participation cannot entail ethnic integration. The idea of religious conversion had not yet been developed, and so the prophet can only console them with the idea that God himself will maintain their memory. A later response to the separatism of Ezra appears in the book of Chronicles, whose date of composition is debated but is supposedly roughly contemporaneous with the books of Ezra‐ Nehemiah. According to the locally oriented approach of the Chronicler, all the inhabitants of the land of Israel, including those dwelling in Samaria, are considered children of the Israelite tribes (Japhet 1989, pp. 325–334). As these sources of the Persian period reveal, various groups pressed on the boundaries of the community from the outside, but they faced a growing tendency among Judaeans toward introversion. We do not know enough about the social powers during this period, and these trends will mature later on, in other political and social circumstances. With time, however, the conception of a “holy seed” compatible with the self‐conception of a minority with narrow and impermeable boundaries overcame broader conceptions. This laid the foundation for the establishment of a distinctively Judaean identity and title, which replaced the title Israelite (Jos., Ant. 11.173), as well as the sharpening of ethnic boundaries, a process that continued into the Hellenistic period (Weinfeld 2005, pp. 232– 238, 251–266). Judaean separatism in the spirit of Ezra took hold specifically with respect to the Samaritans. While this group of residents of the northern region of Samaria perceived themselves to descend from the northern Israelite tribes, Judaean traditions identified them as foreigners who were transferred to the region during the Assyrian destruction of the Israelite kingdom. As we learn from Josephus, the relations with the Samaritans were a contentious issue up to the end of the Persian period. While Menashe, the brother of the high priest, married the daughter of Sanballat, the Samaritan governor, others in Jerusalem rebuked him for violating the prohibition of intermarriage, and they distanced Menashe from the priesthood. Sanballat wanted to compensate his son‐in‐law and took advantage of Alexander’s arrival to build a temple in Samaria to compete with the one in Jerusalem (Ant. 11.302–328). Now the separation was complete, for while ethnic boundaries may be ambiguous, ritual boundaries served to separate the two populations and regions. Judaeans claimed “Israeliteness” exclusively to themselves. Any room for cooperation disappeared with the building of the Samaritan temple, as ethnic and cultic boundaries consolidated within the boundaries of Judaea.

Hellenism and the Birth of “Judaism” Through the spread of Hellenism local populations in the East assimilated into Greek political and cultural frameworks, casting local identities into Greek classifications. In this vein, references of Greek writers to Jews suggest a new image of the Jew, shaped within Greek conceptual frameworks. According to Clearchus, his master Aristotle was highly impressed by a traveling Jew, who in Aristotle’s description belonged to a race of philosophers originating from India, but inhabiting Judaea. Essentially, Clearchus claims, this philosophically oriented Jew was Greek not only in language, but even in soul (Stern 1974–1984, GLAJJ 1: 50). This description abstracts this Judaean from his concrete

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e­ thnic attributes and defines him according to his philosophical inclinations, as understood in Greek terms. According to Hecataeus of Abdera, Jews are distinguished not by their physical attributes or their place of origin, but by their form of priestly government. Hecateus refers to the Jews’ way of life in terms of a politeia, as a constitution of a Greek city (Stern 1974–1984, GLAJJ 1: 28). Both authors describe the Jews in clearly Hellenized terms. A clear, albeit later, expression of this notion appears in the writing of the Roman historian Cassius Dio (beginning of the third century ce). From his perspective, the ethnic significance of the term Ioudaios had already been completely lost, and it relates to any person, even from a different ethnos, who adopts their customs (Stern 1974–1984, GLAJJ 2: 351). Cassius is familiar with the image of Judaism as it was consolidated during the Roman period (see below). However, the primary extraction of the unique way of life from the ethnic group is a direct result of the Jewish integration into the Hellenistic milieu, during the third to second centuries bce and of the description of the Jews’ form of life, practices, and beliefs, in terms of politeia. Through this process, the concept of Judaism was being abstracted from its concrete ethnic and political realities (although not eliminating its historical significance) and has become an entity unto itself. This fundamental transformation is embodied primarily in the birth of conversion to which Cassius attests, as well as in the invention of the abstract concept of “Judaism.” This concept first appears in 2 Maccabees (written in the mid‐second century bce) and it encapsulates the essence of the Hasmonean battle for the purification of the Temple and the reestablishment of the laws nullified by Antiochus, the Seleucid king (2 Macc. 2: 19–22). The creation of the abstract concept, denoting the core features of the Jews’ way of living, reflects the ways in which Jews sought to define themselves within a Greek environment. Paradoxically, in order to maintain their separate ethos in the face of Seleucid attempts at Hellenization, the residents of Judaea adopted new conceptions of Jewish identity, which followed Greek categorizations. Shaya Cohen (1999, pp. 69–106) argues that during the course of the second century bce the meaning of the term ioudaios changed from a strictly ethnic meaning (“Judaean”) to a more complex religio‐ethnic meaning (“Jew”). The original ethnic usage continued into the Roman period alongside this new development. Members of diaspora communities were simply identified as “the people” and they regularly lacked a separate organizational designation (Rajak 2002). Philo even applies the Greek colonial model in describing the Jews as people of their mother city, Jerusalem, who spread in settlements throughout the world (Flacc. 46; Pearce 2004). Through their acclaimed ethnic antiquity, these ­diaspora communities sought to ensure formal recognition of their ancestral customs against the interests of the cities (Barclay 1996, pp. 402–413). At the same time, alongside the continued use of Ioudaios in an ethnic sense, Cohen identified a shift toward a cultural meaning of this word, equivalent to that of hellenos. Again, this new meaning (which did not replace the original one) finds expression first in 2 Maccabees: “They were not allowed to observe the Sabbath, to maintain the festivals of their ancestors, or to acknowledge that they were Ioudaioi” (6: 6). Henceforth, being a Jew involved active participation in the ancestral constitution. This view of Judaism had a direct effect on the birth of conversion as a decidedly Hellenized institution. Conversion makes its first appearance in Josephus’ description of the Hasmonean conquests toward the end of the second century bce, who expanded the


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borders of their kingdom beyond Judaea to include Samaria and the Galilee to the north and Idumaea to the south. Hyrcanus (135–104 bce) conquered the cities of Idumaea and allowed their residents to remain if they would undergo circumcision and follow Jewish laws. Aristobolus followed suit, converting the Ituraeans in the north (Ant. 13.257–258, 318). According to Cohen (1999, pp. 109–139), the Hasmonean policy had no biblical precedents, but was rather based on a conception of Judaism as a politeia, stripped from its ethnic roots, just as Hellenism was abstracted from its physis, its ethnic, historical embodiment, and became a paideia, a form of education. The possibility of becoming a Greek, which was essential to the expansion of Hellenism, supplied the model for the Hasmoneans to transform Judaism into an acquired cultural system. In the words of Josephus: “not only familial ties, but also a shared way of life creates kinship” (Ag. Ap. 2.210). Through these three elements: the birth of conversion, the creation of “Judaism,” and the new meaning of the term ioudaious, Cohen offers a narrative of revolution, as the Hellenistic presence gave rise to a completely new conception of Jewish identity. However, this elegant binary model overlooks the enduring tension between diverse approaches toward conversion (Schwartz 2011). Jewish society during this period was ideologically polarized, in large part as the result of the diverse reactions to Hellenism and the prolonged struggle against its fervent proponents. Old disputes from the Persian period now received new life, and what seems, at first glance, to be the revolution of conversion actually reflects a continuing contention between competing conceptions of Jewish identity. Echoes of the diverse attitudes toward conversion continue to resonate up to the end of the Second Temple period. Josephus (Life 113) tells of two nobles from Trachonitis who reached the area of Judaean jurisdiction in the Galilee and asked to join the revolt under his command. According to his account, he found himself standing strong against other Jews who demanded that the foreigners circumcise should they wish to enlist. Josephus was opposed to forced circumcision because, in his opinion, the fear of God was a matter of choice. It seems clear, however, that his interlocutors understood circumcision in radically different terms, not as a personal expression of commitment to God, but rather as a condition for living under Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel. Some Jews may have based this notion on the biblical precedent of the sons of Jacob who demanded that the Shechemites circumcise in order to covenant with them (Gen. 34: 15). This line of reasoning could also explain the actions of the Hasmoneans in a completely different light than Josephus has presented it. It comes as no surprise that Josephus, writing in Greek, describes the conversion of the Idumaeans and Ituraeans as a decision to adopt a Jewish way of living, but others would have understood it in terms of a political alliance. The application of the biblical commandments as the law of the land in the period of the Hasmoneans allowed a return to the biblical model of foreign assimilation in a Jewish environment without assuming conversion or personal transformation. Not everyone, then, shared a Hellenized conception of conversion, and there are attestations of opposition to this trend by those who maintained a stronger ethnic sense of affiliation, which combined with a separatist orientation in the spirit of Ezra. Christine Hayes (2002a, pp. 68–91) identified opposition to marriage with converts in two texts from the second century bce. Jubilees rewrites the biblical story of Dinah in

Contesting Identities


Shechem, but in contrast to Scripture contains no mention of the possibility of ­marriage after circumcision. This would imply that according to Jubilees, the distinction between Jew and Gentile was ontological and impermeable. This seems to be the view of the Qumran sectarian text Miqsat Ma’aseh ha‐Torah (4QMMT), which lists intermarriage as a source of impurity and a reason for separating from the people. Supposedly, what this author viewed as intermarriage, others would allow by means of conversion. Following then in the footsteps of Ezra, these sectarian texts hold to a strong sense of genealogical affiliation, which denied any form of ethnic conversion. Other Qumran texts do not negate conversion, but they distance converts from the Temple. One text anticipates a future temple in which neither bastards, nor Gentiles, nor converts will enter the Temple complex (4QFlorilegium I 3–4). The Temple Scroll (39: 5, 40: 6) extracts from the verse “Do not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother, do not abhor an Egyptian, for you were a stranger in his land. Sons born to them of the third generation can enter into the community of God” (Deut. 23: 8–9) that entry into the Temple is forbidden to those joining the Jewish people until their complete assimilation after four generations and, until then, they are to be marginalized. As per an ethnic dynamic, assimilation is possible and recognized, but it takes time, and it creates an intermediary status of children of mixed breed. Daniel Schwartz (1990, pp. 124–130) identifies this position with the priestly valuation of family lineage, which did not acknowledge the individual’s decision to convert. It seems that this position was widespread in Jewish society, as the continued public attitude toward the Idumaeans as semi‐Jews demonstrates. King Herod, the son of a Judaized Idumaean father and a Nabataean mother, had constant worries about his status as a “half Jew.” Even his grandson, Agrippa the First, fourth generation to Idumaean converts, had to contend with those who raised doubts regarding his lineage and his right to enter the Temple as a Jew. Thus, even when conversion became an accomplished fact, its nature was still the matter of ongoing controversy.

Sectarianism and the True Israel Ethnic boundaries continued to crumble, not only on account of Hellenized tendencies, such as surveyed in the previous section, but paradoxically also among more separatist circles. While these groups rejected the possibility of boundary crossing by means of conversion, it was their sectarian position that ultimately led to the breakdown of ethnic boundaries. The sectarian texts from Qumran not only promote social and political separatism but indeed redefine anew the boundaries of the Jewish people. Without undermining the historical Israel, the sectarian position worked to blur the distinction between non‐sectarian Jews and non‐Jews (Baumgarten 1997, pp. 5–11). Consequently, while it was accepted among Jews in Palestine to view Gentiles as impure, and to restrict contact with them, the Qumran Community Rule extended impurity also to all those ethnic Jews outside the Qumran sect (1QS 3: 2–5). Ethnic distinction was thus substituted by the dichotomy between pure and impure, and the right to purity was granted only to those who accepted upon themselves the rule of the Community. Joining the Community brings about a transformation of the self as the result of submission to the Holy Spirit. The


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­ ewcomer is released from subjugation to the forces of Impurity and becomes worthy to n stand with angels (Furstenberg 2016). Members of the community partook in a cosmic battle between the Children of Light and the Children of Darkness, which was not organized along ethnic lines. The biblical punishment of excision (“karet”) for grave transgressions served sectarians to deprive other Jews of membership in the people of Israel. The Qumran sources are not uniform regarding the essence of the dichotomy between pure and impure, but, regardless, it became the formative category in their world‐view (Harrington 2008). Even among non‐ sectarian groups there prevailed an aspiration to be associated with the pure. The Pharisees established strict rules regarding contact with those they termed “people of the land” (am ha’aretz), those other Jews whom they considered to be impure. As the name of the Pharisees indicates (Perushim, “the separated ones”), despite their ambition for leadership they sought to implement the Ezraean ideal of separation from the people of the land (Cohon 1960; compare Baumgarten 1983). Thus, although the Pharisaic restrictions regarding hosting, contact, and marriage with other Jews were relatively moderate compared to the Qumran sect, they shared the separatist tradition, which worked to undermine the distinction between Jew and Gentile in favor of the pure/impure divide. The prevalence of this alternative taxonomy among mainstream Second Temple Jewish groups also set the stage for the rise of new movements, such as Christianity (Furstenberg 2015). The collapse of the boundaries between Jew and Gentile among the very first generation of Jesus followers is best understood against this sectarian mindset, no less than it owes to the universalist Hellenized vision of Judaism, as we learn from Peter’s first step in spreading the Gospel beyond the Jewish community. In his vision at Joppa, Peter saw descending from the heavens a sheet full of foods of all kind, from which the Lord demands that he eat, for “What God has made pure, you shall not deem impure” (Acts 10: 9–16). When he awakens, confused by the meaning of the vision, the messengers of Cornelius, a pious, God‐fearing Roman officer, arrive and invite him to the officer’s house. At this point, it dawns on Peter, as he explains upon entering Cornelius’ house: Jews are accustomed not to enter gentile homes, because they deem Gentiles impure, but God does not view them as such, rather He commands the opposite: not to deem other humans as impure. Not only is it permissible to be hosted by them, they are also worthy of receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, and, consequently, baptism. If according to the Qumran community the right to purity was restricted to a limited group, the students of Jesus extended this right to all. At the same time, the exclusiveness of Qumran and the inclusiveness of the early Christians are essentially two sides of the same coin. Thus, from its beginnings, the communal organization of the early Christians substituted ethnic belonging with communal identity and a strong sense of divine promise vested by the Holy Spirit through purification practices (Acts 2: 37–42). At the same time, it was not enough to abandon previous dichotomies between pure and impure to consolidate this new association of Jesus followers and to define its relationship to the common ethnic identity. Peter did not suggest a well‐organized alternative, nor a well‐defined communal identity for those Gentiles who also merited purification and the Holy Spirit. In this respect, Peter’s position stands well within the confines of the early biblical prophecies, in expectation for the eschatological joining of the Gentiles in the worship of the God of Israel. However, the continuing tension among Jesus followers

Contesting Identities


concerning Gentiles’ commitment to the laws of the Torah (Gal. 2: 11–21) compelled Paul to create a more developed definition of the community and its relationship to ­historical Israel. According to Paul, circumcision of the heart, and not of the flesh, is what establishes who is truly and inwardly a Jew (Rom. 2: 25–29), but at the same time, Paul tried to maintain the biblical conception of the children of Israel as people of the promise. To this end, he distinguishes between two groups: the descendants of Abraham according to the flesh, through whom the promise of the Messiah was actualized, and the children of Abraham by faith (Rom. 9: 1–9). Through this double sectarian‐like mechanism (“for not all of Israel are Israel”) Paul is able to maintain the framework of the sacred history of Israel progressing toward the Messiah, and at the same time incorporate the Gentiles into the community, as more than mere adjuncts, as if on parallel tracts. Paul applies this scheme along with sectarian language to entrench the boundary between the community of the faithful and the “other” idol‐worshipping Gentiles. These latter remain impure, as they are in the Jewish conception, while believers in Jesus are incorporated into the body of Jesus, freeing them from sin. For Paul, just as for the members of the Qumran sect, Jewish ethnicity was not merely a symbolic representation of choosing the proper politeia, as per the Hellenized conception. Rather, it provided the necessary historically recognizable framework for communicating the Holy Spirit to the favorites, be it through the body of the Qumran community or through the body of Jesus (Ophir and Rosen-Zvi 2015; compare Fredriksen 2010. On ethnic reasoning in early Christianity see Buell 2005) (see also Haney, Chapter 15).

Jewish Identity under Roman Imperialism The strong opposition Paul met in some Diaspora communities reflects their commitment to an ethnic affiliation, which provided them justification for their special standing within the Greco‐Roman civic context (Goodman 2005). However, even this traditional ­foundation of Diaspora identity was bound to undergo far‐reaching changes under Roman imperial rule. The imperial system dictated the nature of the communal organization within it, both of Christians and of Jews, subsequently limiting their authority, and establishing a new language through which ancient communities perceived of themselves. In Book 14 of his Antiquities, Josephus collected documents assuring the rights of Jewish communities in Asia Minor to assemble and to observe the customs of their ancestors. One of these documents is extraordinary for the way it conceives of the communal activity. Written by a Roman magistrate, it presents the activity of the Jews using terms familiar from the gatherings of Roman associations for shared meals and collection of funds. He mentions that while Caesar generally forbade the activity of such unions as they posed a threat to public order, he permitted the Jews to convene (Ant. 14.213–216; Pucci Ben Zeev 1998, pp. 107–118). The Romans honored the ancient customs of the Jews, but implicitly they redefined anew the nature of Jewish association, subjecting it to Roman legal categories. In the Roman system, there was no place for independent ­political organizations, as the Jews were accustomed from the Hellenistic period when they acted as an autonomous ethnic polity alongside municipal institutions. Consequently,


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the Roman administration degraded the status of the community to that of other private associations, which occupied the civic sphere and provided citizens with their ritual, financial, and social support. The edict of Claudius following the uprising in Alexandria in the year 38 ce reveals the effect of recasting Jewish communal organization within the Roman order. Despite the great efforts of the Jews, the Emperor refused to recognize the community’s independent standing as enjoying equivalent rights to Alexandrian citizens. Although he reconfirmed the right of the Jews to maintain their customs, he subjected them to the city authorities and demanded that they recognize their secondary status as guests in the city. The threat to public order posed by the Jewish Diaspora’s network was neutralized by subjecting the Jews to their local civic context and the negation of any kind of overarching organization (Barclay 1996, pp. 48–71; compare Gruen 2002, pp. 54–83). This legal and social reality demanded the reconfiguration of Judaism in terms of a system of practices disassociated from a larger ethnic entity, and which was ultimately integrated into the ritual environs of the civic sphere. This tendency toward localization went hand in hand with the growing participation of local non‐Jews in synagogue life by means of donation and worship. Thus, groups of “God fearers” developed alongside Jewish communities, and Jewish gatherings appealed to other city members as a local ritual alternative. The destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 ce and the quashing of the Diaspora Revolt during the reign of Trajan (117 ce) accelerated the disintegration of the Jewish collective under the Roman empire. Jewish survival became more dependent on local conditions, and less stable, and thus documentation became more sporadic (Schwartz 2016). The Romans reacted to the Great Revolt by collective punishment of all Jews of the empire, requiring them to pay a Jewish tax (fiscus Judaicus), which replaced the annual tax sent to the Jerusalem Temple. At the same time, the imperial policy of tax collection served not so much to infuse existing ethnic boundaries, but to make one’s affiliation as a Jew, a Christian, or a worshipper of the emperor a matter of personal choice (Goodman 1989). At a time when many Jews chose to abandon the Jewish way of life and others chose to take the risk and declare themselves Christians, choosing to pay the tax, and the accompanying exemption from participation in the emperor’s worship expressed the desire to cling to traditional Jewish practices. Thus, the imperial fiscal interest, as well as the occasional persecution of Christians who refused to participate in the imperial worship, resulted in direct Roman involvement in establishing the boundaries of the Jewish community (Heemstra 2010). The Roman environment also determined, to a great extent, the way the rabbis sought to shape the nature and boundaries of the polity of Israel (preferring this biblical term rather than the widely used Yehudim, “Jews.”) On one level, the rabbis assumed the people of Israel were ethnically distinct from the rest of the world, which they grouped together as “nations of the world,” “idol worshippers,” or most commonly simply as goyim, “Gentiles.” This distinction is conceived as almost ontological in its nature (Himmelfarb 2006, pp. 160–186; Ophir and Rosen‐Zvi 2011). At the same time, despite the undeniable role of lineage on both personal and national levels, the rabbis rescinded some of the major elements of ethnic affiliation. They denied the existence of gray areas of ethnic identity, unclear lineage, and gradual assimilation into the collective, which were all familiar from the world of the Jews of the Second Temple period.

Contesting Identities


In rabbinic literature, the distinction between Jew and other tends to be quite clear and definitive; however, in order to achieve such a controlled system, the rabbis were in need of a legal technology, which would allow them to provide precise definitions of citizenship and determine personal status. Since a discourse of ethnicity could not ­provide the ­necessary certainty, the sages—very much like the Romans—saw in the law itself, beyond establishing the norms of the community, the very tool for defining its boundaries. The  following interpretation of Leviticus 1: 2 aptly demonstrates this approach: When any one (lit. “man,” but including woman) of you brings an offering to the Lord (Lev. 1: 2): “Any man”—this includes the proselytes. “Of you”—this excludes the apostates… What characterizes “Israel” is that they accept the yoke of the covenant, this includes the proselytes, who accept the yoke of the covenant, and excludes the apostates, for they do not accept the yoke of the covenant. (Sifra Nedava 2; see Schremer 2012)

The homily then moves on to explicitly deny the exclusive role of lineage (as in the case of a Jewish born apostate) in favor of the commitment to the covenant (as in the case of a proselyte). Since participation in the covenant defines communal boundaries, the rabbis further exclude from the polity those who undo their circumcision or publicly violate the Sabbath. The rabbinic conception of participation in the law as a precondition for membership did not arise in a vacuum; the sages, acting under Roman rule, sought to maintain a viable legal system under the shadow of the Roman model of law and citizenship. In response, the rabbis formulated the boundaries of their own community though distinctively Roman categories. Thus, in establishing a child’s Jewish status, the Mishnah (Qidd. 3: 12) avoids ethnic considerations and applies a criterion of legal recognition familiar from the Roman law concept of conubium. A child is considered Jewish only if his parents can maintain a legal union with one another. Otherwise, the child is defined by his mother, in accordance with the Roman concept of ius gentium (laws of the nations). This is one of the most impressive examples of the Roman influence on the formulation of rabbinic law, touching on the very heart of the definition of Jewish identity and the establishment of communal boundaries (Cohen 1985; Hayes 2002b) (see also Dohrmann, Chapter 17). Establishing a person’s status based on legal recognition also overcomes the ambivalence encountered with previous ethnic conceptions. This is the case with regard to the status of the Samaritans. As we saw in the section on Hellenism and the birth of “Judaism,” although the Samaritans saw themselves as Israelites, Judaeans during the Second Temple period distanced them and considered them to belong to a foreign nation. The rabbis, however, bypassed the murky ethnic question and granted them an intermediate status. As they did take part in fulfilling the laws of the Torah, the rabbis recognized their power to act in the ritual sphere, but denied them rights of marriage and commerce, similar to the Roman model of partial citizenship granted to inferior groups in the empire (Furstenberg 2019). Admittedly, the social standing of the rabbis was quite limited during the Roman period, and so, despite their desire to regulate the boundaries of Jewish polity, they lacked the


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means to oversee the process of entry into the citizen body. Therefore, we find the rabbis themselves disagreeing as to what should practically be included in the act of conversion, and what was the status of a person who converted on his own. At the same time, there is a tendency from the third century onward to establish a defined protocol for conversion composed of three elements: circumcision, ritual immersion, and the acceptance of the commandments (Cohen 1999, pp. 198–238). The great diversity among Jewish communities meant that this procedure crystallized slowly and was completed only at the end of Late Antiquity, with the completion of the rabbinization of Jewish society, but this process was closely tied to the Christianization of the region, which again worked to establish a new framework for Jewish peoplehood.

The “ekklesia” of the Torah As Christianity took over the Roman empire during the course of the fourth century, it brought about not only a change of cult but it revolutionized the way identity was structured. Henceforth, it conformed to a large extent around a belief system that was abstracted from the cultural system as a whole. Scholars have identified this moment as the birth of “religion” as a separate category (Boyarin 2009); here I prefer the term ekklesia, or “church,” and in the sense of “a body of assembly,” to denote the creation of such an exclusive defining framework. The establishment of an institution which defined itself, first and foremost, in opposition to Judaism as the true belief system and the only path for salvation, necessarily entailed a creation of an oppositional form of Jewish identity (Schwartz 2001, pp. 179–274). Since the Jews could no longer fit into dominant civic and political structures, as in previous generations, they were compelled once again to view themselves as a self‐contained and separate entity standing in opposition to the dominant Christian power structure. As late rabbinic literature of the post‐Constantinian period demonstrates, Jewish authorities sought to provide viable alternatives to the prospect of salvation that the Church offered those who joined it. Preliminary attempts, however, to negotiate the evolving and revolutionary Christian categories of identity had already begun to take root in early rabbinic literature prior to the fourth century. Tannaitic literature (second to third centuries ce) includes a number of sources expressing anxiety of heresy. One who prays incorrectly reveals his sympathy with distorted beliefs and is wont to find himself expelled from the synagogue (m. Meg. 4: 7), a phenomenon that later developed into a cursing of Christians in synagogues, as the Church Fathers attest (Langer 2012, pp. 16–39). The laws of separation from heretics were especially harsh, despite the clear difficulty to identify individual heretics. As opposed to apostates who chose to leave the community and identify as Gentiles, heretics (minim) posed an internal threat. Superficially, they seemed to act like any other Jew, but small deviations revealed their dangerous views, such as the belief in Jesus (t. Hul. 2: 19–24). When it was impossible to distance them from the community, the sages pretentiously denied their status in the world to come: “But the heretics and the apostates and the informers and those who deny the Torah and separate themselves from the community and deny the belief in the resurrection of the dead … Gehinnom is locked behind them and they are judged to it for perpetuity” (t. Sanh. 13: 5). In the few rabbinic references to heretics we

Contesting Identities


find a modest expression of what concurrently evolved into a full fledge literary genre of Christian heresiology. Heresiology, that is, the mapping of the differences between correct and false belief, is the technology of Orthodoxy (Boyarin 2004, p. 45), and in this sense, the rabbis were also party to the attempt to distinguish themselves from those who held false beliefs, including the Christians. Scholars disagree regarding the extent to which rabbinic Judaism claimed exclusivity and denied other forms of Jewish existence (compare Cohen 1984 with Boyarin 2004). However, there is no doubt that with the rise of Christianity the power of a belief system, disengaged from an ethnic identity, to define a separate identity became all the more present, as this very discourse marked Christian distinctiveness. Thus, according to Tertullian, the Jewish people had been a glorious nation with a land and sovereignty in the past, yet they were denied all national properties due to their denial of Jesus. As a result, Judaism was stripped of its historical and cultural significance and dwindled into a faulty and faithless worldview (Mason 2007, pp. 471–473). This approach reflected back on the Jews, compelling them to accommodate to the Christian framing and respond accordingly. Henceforth, rabbinic sources of the period disclose a new tendency toward presenting Jewish peoplehood not as an ancient nation with venerable traditions, characteristic of Jewish apologetics during the Second Temple period, but as an “ekklesia of the Torah,” providing exclusive access to salvation. Developments in the conversion ceremony during the fourth century demonstrate the rabbis’ adaptation of the dominant Christian discourse. Owing to its antiquity and unique methods of worship, there was tremendous interest in Judaism by outsiders from the early Roman period. However, in rabbinic literature of the third and fourth centuries, we find clearer expressions of missionizing and encouragement to convert. Abraham is presented as one who converted multitudes, and the Midrash adds that for anyone who brings a Gentile to convert, it is as if he created him (Gen. Rab. 39: 14). It is difficult to refrain from the conjecture that the rise of such an approach is in debt to the concurrent spread of the Christian message. If it did not pose a direct challenge, it evidently gave rise to a new conception of religious identity (Goodman 1994, pp. 129–153). In this vein, the rabbis adopted Christian ritual language, along with the messages it implied. In complete opposition to earlier sources, both in Second Temple literature and early rabbinic literature, which saw circumcision alone as the essence of conversion and the ultimate identity marker of Jewish ethnicity, the later ceremony centered around water immersion. The Talmud (b. Yeb. 46b) suggests it was modeled so as to include women, and some scholars followed suit (Cohen 1999, p. 223). At the same time, it seems that the ceremony was reshaped at this period in direct response to Christian baptism. Henceforth, the act of conversion takes place in the water, as the convert, instead of proclaiming belief in Jesus, proclaims his acceptance of the commandments. Immersion, as an act of spiritual transformation and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, turns the person into a part of Israel, which is conceived of as a theological entity. “Once he has immersed and emerged, they say pleasant and comforting things to him. To whom have you cleaved, how fortunate you are! To the one who spoke and created the world, blessed be He, for the world was only created for Israel, and only Israel are called sons of God” (m. Ger. 1: 1; Furstenberg 2017). Finally, it is no coincidence that it was during the course of the fourth century that the first political organization including all Jews of the empire was established under the rule


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of the Palestinian Patriarch (Goodman 1983, pp. 111–118; Levine 1996). The elevation of the Patriarch came hand in hand with the exclusion of the Jews, as a separate “Church.” Thereafter, Christian emperors viewed Jewish communal organizations in the very same form as the Christian Church, as we learn from the law of Arcadius of 397 ce. “Those who are subject to the rule of the Illustrious Patriarchs, that is the Archsynagogues, the patriarchs, the presbyters and the others who are occupied in the rite of that religion, shall persevere in keeping the same privileges that are reverently bestowed on the first clerics of the venerable Christian Law” (Cod. theod. 16: 8:1 3, in Linder 1987, p. 202). At the head of the polity of the Jews stands the Patriarch, who is no longer conceived of as “head of the people” (genarch) as he was in the past, but rather as ministering the priesthood of the Jewish religion. As in the later Roman empire, the Jews under Sasanian rule (from the third century ce and on) were organized as well in a centralized structure parallel to that of the Christians, and the Exilarch has been compared with the Catholicos of the Persian church (Herman 2012). At the same time, the genealogical discourse characteristic of Iranian society familiar from the beginning of the story arises again. Thus, as the story of Jewish identity during the three centuries prior to the Muslim conquest shifts from the Greco‐Roman milieu into the rabbinized terrain of the Babylonian Talmud, it returned to the very starting point, concurring with the activity of Ezra. Under Sasanian rule (third to seventh centuries ce), outside the realm of competition with Christianity, Jewish society re‐established a separatist image in line with Iranian values and practices. This approach finds manifold expressions among the rabbis of Babylonia. Their view toward conversion is significantly more institutionalized, restrictive, and brought under rabbinic control than that of their Palestinian counterparts, and counter to earlier traditions Babylonian authorities expressed reservation about the phenomenon as a whole (Lavee 2017). Furthermore, various talmudic traditions embody the view that the observance of genealogical purity set the boundaries of the Jewish population: “Ezra did not go up from Babylonia until he made it like pure sifted flour” (b. Qidd. 69b), implying that the most noble Jews with distinguished lineages remained in Babylonia. The Babylonian Talmud further maps the regions of Jewish population according to the strength of its genealogy: “Babylon is healthy, Meishan is dead, Media is sick and Elam is dying” (b. Qidd. 71b), and it moves on to outline the exact borders of healthy Babylonia. The self‐image of Babylonian Jewry rested then on its claim to superiority of lineage over their Roman‐­governed brethren since time immemorial, which at the same time was firmly anchored in the discourse of genealogical politics among elite groups of the Sasanian empire (Paz 2018).

REFERENCES Barclay, John M.G. (1996). Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora: From Alexander to Trajan (323 BCE–117 CE). Edinburgh: T&T Clark. Baumgarten, Albert I. (1983). The name of the Pharisees. Journal of Biblical Literature 102: 411–428. Baumgarten, Albert I. (1997). The Flourishing of Jewish Sects in the Maccabean Era: An Interpretation. Leiden: Brill.

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Boyarin, Daniel (2004). Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo‐Christianity. Philadelphia, PA: Pennsylvania University Press. Boyarin, Daniel (2009). Rethinking Jewish Christianity: an argument for dismantling a dubious category (to which is appended a correction of my Border Lines). Jewish Quarterly Review 99: 7–36. Buell, Denise Kimber (2005). Why This New Race: Ethnic Reasoning in Early Christianity. New York: Columbia University Press. Cohen, Shaye J.D. (1984). The significance of Yavneh: Pharisees, Rabbis and the end of Jewish sectarianism. Hebrew Union College Annual 55: 27–53. Cohen, Shaye J.D. (1985). The origins of the matrilineal principle in rabbinic law. Association of Jewish Studies Review 10: 19–53. Cohen, Shaye J.D. (1999). The Beginnings of Jewishness: Boundaries, Varieties, Uncertainties. Berkeley, CA: University of California. Cohon, Samuel S. (1960). Pharisaism: a definition. In: Joshua Bloch Memorial Volume, Studies in Booklore and History (ed. Abraham Berger), 65–74. New York: New York Public Library. Fredriksen, Paula (2010). Judaizing the nations: the ritual demands of Paul’s Gospel. New Testament Studies 56: 232–252. Furstenberg, Yair (2015). Outsider impurity: trajectories of Second Temple separation traditions in Tannaitic literature. In: Tradition, Transmission, and Transformation from Second Temple Literature through Judaism and Christianity in Late Antiquity (eds. M. Kister, H.I. Newman, M. Segal, and R. Clemens), 40–68. Leiden: Brill. Furstenberg, Yair (2016). Initiation and the ritual purification from sin: between Qumran and the Apostolic tradition. Dead Sea Discoveries 23: 365–394. Furstenberg, Yair (2017). The Christianization of rabbinic proselyte baptism. In: Coping with Religious Change in the Late Antique Eastern Mediterranean, Studies and Texts in Antiquity and Christianity (eds. E. Iricinschi and C. Kotsifou), 1–28. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. Furstenberg, Yair (2019). The Rabbis and the Roman citizenship model: The case of the Samaritans. In: In the Crucible of Empire: The Impact of Roman Citizenship upon Greeks, Jews and Christians (eds. K. Berthelot and J. Price), 181–216. Leuven: Peeters. Goodman, Martin (1983). State and Society in Roman Galilee: A.D. 132–212. Totowa, NJ: Rowman & Allanheld. Goodman, Martin (1989). Nerva, the Fiscus Judaicus and Jewish identity. Journal of Roman Studies 79: 40–44. Goodman, Martin (1994). Mission and Conversion: Proselytizing in the Religious History of the Roman Empire. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Goodman, Martin (2005). The persecution of Paul by Diaspora Jews. In: The Beginnings of Christianity: A Collection of Articles (eds. J. Pastor and M. Mor), 379–387. Jerusalem: Yad Ben Zvi. Gruen, Erich S. (2002). Diaspora: Jews Amidst Greeks and Romans. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Harrington, Hannah K. (2008). Keeping outsiders out: impurity at Qumran. In: Defining Identities: We, You and the Other in the Dead Sea Scrolls (eds. F. Garcia Martinez and M. Popović), 187–203. Leiden: Brill.


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Hayes, Christine E. (2002a). Gentile Impurities and Jewish Identities: Intermarriage and Conversion from the Bible to the Talmud. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. Hayes, Christine E. (2002b). Genealogy, illegitimacy and personal status: the Yerushalmi in comparative perspective. In: The Talmud Yerushalmi and Graeco Roman Culture, vol. 3 (ed. P. Schäfer), 73–89. Tübingen: Mor Siebeck. Heemstra, Marius (2010). The Fiscus Judaicus and the Parting of the Ways. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. Herman, G. (2012). A Prince Without a Kingdom: The Exilarch in the Sasanian Era. Tübingen: Mohr Siebek. Himmelfarb, Martha (2006). A Kingdom of Priests: Ancestry and Merit in Ancient Judaism. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania. Japhet, Sara (1989). The Ideology of the Book of Chronicles and Its Place in Biblical Thought. Frankfurt am Main: Verlag Peter Lang. Japhet, Sara (2006). From the Rivers of Babylon to the Highlands of Judah: Collected Studies on the Restoration Period. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns. Langer, Ruth (2012). Cursing the Christians? A History of Birkat Ha‐Minim. New York: Oxford University Press. Lavee, Moshe (2017). The Rabbinic Conversion of Judaism: The Unique Perspective of the Bavli on Conversion and the Construction of Jewish Identity. Leiden: Brill. Levine, I. (1996). The status of the Patriarchate in the third and fourth centuries: sources and methodologies. Journal of Jewish Studies 47: 1–32. Linder, Amnon (1987). The Jews in Imperial Roman Legislation. Detroit: Wayne State University. Marginalia (2014). Jew and Judean: A MARGINALIA Forum on Politics and Historiography in the Translation of Ancient Texts. http://marginalia.lareviewofbooks.org/jew‐judean‐ forum/. Mason, Steven (2007). Jews, Judaeans, Judaizing, Judaism: problems of categorization in ancient history. Journal for the Study of Judaism 38: 457–512. Ophir, Adi and Rosen‐Zvi, Ishay (2011). Goy: towards a genealogy. Diné Israel, 28: 69–122. Ophir, Adi and Rosen‐Zvi, Ishay (2015). “Paul and the invention of the Gentiles.” Jewish Quarterly Review 105: 1–41. Paz, Yakir (2018). “Meishan is Dead”: on the historical contexts of the Bavli’s representations of the Jews in southern Babylonia. In: The Aggada of the Babylonian Talmud and Its Cultural Worlds (eds. G. Herman and J. Rubenstein), 47–99, Brown Judaic Series. Providence, RI: SBL Press. Pearce, Sarah (2004). Jerusalem as “Mother‐City” in the writings of Philo of Alexandria. In: Negotiating Diaspora: Jewish Strategies in the Roman Empire (ed. J.M.G. Barclay), 19–36. London and New York: T&T Clark. Pucci Ben Zeev, Miriam (1998). Jewish Rights in the Roman World: The Greek and Roman Documents Quoted by Josephus Flavius. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. Rajak, Tessa (2002). Synagogue and community in the Graeco Roman Diaspora. In: Jews in the Hellenistic and Roman Cities (ed. J. Bartlett), 22–38. New York: Routledge.

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Schremer, Adiel (2012). Thinking about belonging in early rabbinic literature: Proselytes, Apostates and “Children of Israel”, or: Does it make sense to speak of early rabbinic orthodoxy? Journal for the Study of Judaism 43: 249–275. Schwartz, Daniel R. (1990). Agrippa I: The Last King of Judaea. Tübingen, Mohr Siebeck. Schwartz, Daniel R. (1996). God, Gentiles and Jewish law: on Acts 15 and Josephus’ Adiabene narrative. In: Geschichte – Tradition – Reflexion; Festschrift für Martin Hengel zum 70 (ed. P. Schäfer), 263–282. Tübingen, Mohr Siebeck. Schwartz, Daniel R. (2014). Judeans and Jews: Four Faces of Dichotomy in Ancient Jewish History. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. Schwartz, Seth (2001). Imperialism and Jewish Society, 200 BCE to 640 CE. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Schwartz, Seth (2011). How many Judaisms were there? A critique of Neusner and Smith on definition and Mason and Boyarin on categorization. Journal of Ancient Judaism 2: 208–238. Schwartz, Seth (2016). Jewish communities in the Roman Diaspora: Why Salo Baron still matters? In: Jewish and Christian Communal Identities in the Roman World (ed. Y. Furstenberg), 225–242. Leiden: Brill. Stern, Menachem (ed.) (1974–1984). Greek and Latin Authors on Jews and Judaism (GLAJJ), 3 vols. Jerusalem: Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities. Weinfeld, Moshe (2005). Normative and Sectarian Judaism in the Second Temple Period. London and New York: T&T Clark.


Imagining Judaism after 70 ce Jonathan Klawans

Interpreting an Event The date 70 ce is inescapable in the study of ancient Judaism. The basic facts are well known: a massive revolt against Rome proved disastrous. Rebellious Jewish settlements in the Galilee and Judaea succumbed to Roman forces. After a prolonged siege, Jerusalem and its temple were reduced to rubble. However, the defeat brought down more than a city and its central monument. There must have been great loss of life, limb, property, and  pride. Surely many were slaughtered, and survivors—particularly women and ­children—must have suffered terribly. The one witness to these events whose testimony has come down to us is the Jewish historian Josephus (c. 37–100 ce). He speaks at length about the misery, which began even before the temple burned. The besieged city starved to such an extent that a woman was driven to cannibalize her own young son (J.W. 6.201–213). As for the slaughter, Josephus asserts: “No pity was shown for age, no reverence for rank; children and graybeards, laity and priests, alike were massacred” (J.W. 6.271). As for numbers, Josephus says 97,000 were taken prisoner and over 1.1 million died (J.W. 6.420). These numbers are surely inflated. The cannibalism story is suspect too, based as it is on a biblical trope. Lamentations 4: 10 mourns a similar scenario, following the destruction of the First Temple in 586 bce. Josephus’s account emulates the biblical pattern in other ways as well. Following Jeremiah 52: 12, Josephus dates the destruction of the Second Temple to the tenth of Av—the same “fated” day as the destruction of the First Temple centuries earlier (J.W. 6.250). Whichever the day, whatever the numbers, with or without familial ­cannibalism, surely the suffering was widespread.

A Companion to Late Ancient Jews and Judaism: Third Century bce to Seventh Century ce, First Edition. Edited by Naomi Koltun-Fromm and Gwynn Kessler. © 2020 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published 2020 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


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By many if not most accounts, this particular disaster was significant beyond lives lost and disrupted. Indeed, according to many scholars, 70 ce brings with it a host of changes to the lives of ancient Jews in Israel and the diaspora (Goodman 2007, pp. 424–477). Because the temple was never rebuilt, most scholars agree that sacrificial practices soon disappeared from Judaism. Some find in the aftermath of 70 ce the disappearance of ­sectarianism and the emergence of rabbinic Judaism (Cohen 1984). Others view the event as a key moment in the “partings of the ways” between Judaism and Christianity (Dunn 2006, pp. 302–338). Still others believe the crisis spawned radical religious reactions, including a “deep crisis of faith” among the rabbis (Schremer 2010, p. 29) or even the emergence of Gnosticism among Jews otherwise unable to understand or tolerate the crises of the day (cf. Williams 1992). Some have gone further than seeing the event as transformative: Seth Schwartz (2001, pp. 108–109) has argued that the failures of the two revolts against Rome (the first revolt of 66 to 70 ce along with the subsequent Bar Kochba rebellion of 132 to 135 ce) nearly ended Judaism altogether: Probably everywhere, though, the failure of the revolts had led to disaffection with and attrition from Judaism. 4 Ezra … gives an idea of the gloom prevailing among some of the literate elites and sub‐elites of Jewish Palestine after 70. What point is there, the author argues, in trying to observe an unobservable covenant when God rewards our efforts by destroying us … [Many survivors] will have reacted with panic, despair, and finally abandonment of Judaism.

In other words, left without hope or explanation, Jews lined up with their former tormentors and turned their backs on their ancient way of life. Judaism was not transformed, but “shattered” (Schwartz 2001, pp. 15, 175). Moving in the opposite direction, other historians wonder whether 70 ce can bear all the weight that has been placed upon it. Daniel R. Schwartz has noted that some of what scholars associate with 70 ce actually extends on to other moments of time, earlier or later. While many speak, often emotionally, of 70 ce as the last moment of Jewish political independence until the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, the real loss of Jewish political independence came over a century earlier, when, in 63 bce, Roman forces entered Jerusalem—and the temple—and put an end to the independent Hasmonean kingdom (Schwartz and Weiss 2012, p. 3). We could point out, similarly, that if we want to speak (with S. Schwartz) about the aftermath of the failed revolts (plural) then the conversation really needs to shift to 135 ce: properly speaking, any results of both revolts would have to emerge most clearly after the second of them. Indeed, it is only at the time of the second revolt that Judaea was drained of Jews and Jerusalem was renamed as a Roman city (Goodman 2007, pp. 469–472). Therefore, there is reason to question whether 70 ce was a singular watershed: some phenomena (like independence) ended over a century earlier; others, like the Jewish presence in Judaea, ended decades later. Some go even further in playing down the effects of 70 ce. Michael Tuval (2013, p. 89) points out that Jews of the Roman Diaspora appear to have developed their own

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l­ocalized modes of worship long before 70 ce. They maintained synagogues, produced religious literature in Greek, and rarely ventured to Jerusalem. Consequently: Although it is reasonable to assume that the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple caused a certain amount of anxiety on the part of the Diaspora Jews … it might not be too bold to suppose that for the religious life of the average Diaspora Jew, nothing much changed on the morning of the eleventh of Ab in 70 ce.

We therefore have before us a rather sizable historiographic spectrum, running from Seth Schwartz’s “shattered” Judaism to Michael Tuval’s “nothing much changed” the morning after. Clearly, making sense of 70 ce is no simple task.

Facing a Chasm There are very few things that can be said with certainty about 70 ce, and one of them is this: we are remarkably less informed than we would like to be. Our only known eye‐­ witness—the above‐mentioned Josephus—says little about Jewish reactions to 70 ce. (Though his own writings about the event constitute the one bona fide contemporary Jewish reaction we have.) Beyond the writings of Josephus, there are a handful of Jewish works ostensibly composed in the decades following 70 ce: these include, above all, the apocalypses 4 Ezra (= 2 Esdras 3–14) and 2 Baruch, as well as a few of the Sibylline Oracles (see Jones 2011). There are also various Gospel passages that appear to react to 70 ce in some way (Reinhartz 2014). Nevertheless, there is indeed a void after 70 ce; our sources illustrating Jewish reactions to the event are few and far between. It would be a mistake, however, to take this evidentiary lacuna as a sign that Judaism was “shattered” or otherwise stunned into silence in 70 ce. Much of the ancient Jewish literature we have has been preserved by Christians, who presumably took less interest in, or had decreasing access to, Jewish literature written in the decades following 70 ce (Dunn 2006; Reinhartz 2014). We cannot easily explain all the accidents of literary survival. If we had to rely on the Jewish tradition exclusively—leaving aside literature preserved by Christians or unearthed at Qumran—our evidentiary chasm would extend from the early Hasmonean period (the date of the latest biblical literature such as Daniel 7–12) all the way until the appearance of Mishnah (the earliest rabbinic writing, usually dated to 200 ce). Clearly, the accidents of preservation cannot reliably indicate rates of literary production (see also Mroczek, Chapter 5). What we do need to do is try to make sense of whatever evidence we do have. There are two common features that are shared by nearly all of the works that respond explicitly to 70 ce. The first is that the temple’s destruction is blamed on Jewish transgression. This trope is found already in Josephus (e.g., J.W. 6.95–102, 200–213) and can also be identified rather easily in the extant Jewish apocalyptic responses to 70 ce (e.g., 4 Ezra 9: 27–37; 2 Bar. 13: 1–11, 78: 1, 79: 4). These works reach this understanding because they are following biblical precedent, just as the First Temple was destroyed because of transgressions at that time (see 2 Kings 24: 1–4; 2 Chron. 36: 13–21), so too was the Second


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Temple destroyed for the very same reason. This brings us to a second common trope: the destruction of the Second Temple is compared to, and understood in light of, the destruction of the First Temple. Josephus makes this point explicitly and repeatedly. He concludes Book VI of Jewish War on precisely this note: “Thus was Jerusalem taken …. Captured on five previous occasions, it was now for the second time devastated …” (6.435). Earlier in the work, Josephus claims that he reminded Jerusalem’s residents of the first destruction—and the reasons for it—on the eve of what would turn out to be the second (5.391– 393, 411–412; 6.103). As noted above, Josephus also takes note of the calendrical coincidence that highlights the connection: the destruction of the Second Temple took place on the very same “fated” day that Nebuchadnezzar burned the First Temple (6.250, 267–268). In this very important respect, Josephus pre‐figures the later rabbis, who also collapsed the destructions on to a single ritual calendar, reaching both further back to earlier catastrophes and forward to subsequent ones (m. Ta‘an. 4: 6; translation follows Danby 1933, p. 200, with modifications): Five things befell our ancestors on the 17th of Tammuz and five on the 9th of Av. On the 17th of Tammuz the tablets were broken, the daily sacrifice ceased, the city was breached, Apostomus burnt the scrolls of the law, and an idol was set up in the sanctuary. On the 9th of Av it was decreed against our ancestors that they should not enter into the land of Israel, the Temple was destroyed for the first and the second time, and Betar was captured and the city was ploughed up. When Av comes in, gladness must be diminished.

We no longer know who Apostomus was; nor can we discern whether the First or Second Temples are meant when “the daily sacrifice ceased.” Yet for both the seventeenth of Tammuz and the ninth of Av, the lists of commemorated events begin in the Pentateuch (the breaking of the tablets: Exod. 32: 19; the decree against the ancestors in the ­wilderness: Num. 14: 26–34). Both lists extend beyond 70 ce: Betar was the location of Bar Kochba’s last stand (b. Git. 57a–58a) and, presumably, the idol was set up in the sanctuary as a cause or result of that second revolt against Rome. Yet what really matters for our purposes is that the rabbis of the Mishnah—no later than 200 ce—have very clearly mapped the second destruction on to the first. Moreover, both destructions have been assimilated to an earlier, biblical catastrophe: the decree that the generation of the Exodus would perish in the wilderness as a punishment for their faithlessness (Num. 14: 1–24). This event sets the pattern. The destruction of the First Temple was a punishment for prior sins (2 Kings 24: 1–4; 2 Chron. 36: 13–21) and presumably we are to understand the destruction of the Second Temple in the same way. Indeed, the placement of our passage in tractate Ta‘anit also leads in this direction, as the tractate on the whole concerns the declaration of public fasts as expressions of atonement, operating under the traditional presumption that droughts and other catastrophes are punishments for sin (m. Ta‘an. 2: 2). Later rabbinic texts leave nothing to the imagination: just like the First Temple, the Second Temple too was brought down because of Jewish transgression (e.g., b. Ber. 3a; b. Shab. 119b; b. Git. 55b–56b). The post‐70 ce apocalypses make the same points, albeit implicitly. By conjuring the spirits and voices of figures like Ezra and Baruch (Jeremiah’s scribe), these works assert

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loudly and clearly that the events of 70 ce follow biblical paradigms—even to the point of being predicted by biblical figures. Again, the general explanation of 70 ce is the same: the destruction of the Second Temple by Rome was orchestrated by God to punish a sinful people in a way that recalls earlier catastrophes, above all the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians. There is one more point that emerges from all this: if the First Temple’s destruction was reversed by the Second Temple’s construction, then would not the Second Temple’s destruction be someday reversed as well? Rabbinic Jews surely expressed these hopes. Traditional Jewish daily prayers include a blessing praising God “who will bring his presence back to Zion.” The Apocalypses are clear on this, for the impending reversal of fortunes is central to apocalyptic thought (see, for example, 4 Ezra 10: 27, 44 –59 and 2 Bar. 32: 1–9). Even Josephus’s works point in this direction. In both War (6.109–110, 250) and Antiquities (10.210, 276–277), Josephus identifies the Romans as the fourth and final kingdom predicted to rise in the book of Daniel (Dan. 2: 40, 7: 7, 23). Josephus does not explicitly spell out the full implications of the identification of Rome with Daniel’s fourth kingdom. However, for Jewish readers of his works the eventual downfall of Rome follows inevitably from the equation. The fourth kingdom’s demise follows its rise, at the hand of God (Dan. 2: 44; 7: 27). To return to our evidentiary chasm: we may well have fewer Jewish responses to the destruction of the Second Temple than we would prefer, but the ones we do have indicate that the Jews of that time were not groping in theological darkness or otherwise struggling to explain the crisis of their day. Keeping in mind how little we can say for sure, we must first consider the reactions to 70 ce that we do have, both early (Josephus and the apocalypses) and later (the Mishnah and other rabbinic literature). When we do this, we must recognize that the reactions we find are essentially the same as each other, all following the prior biblical pattern: major Jewish catastrophes result from cumulative Jewish transgression. Yet God remains present and powerful even in disaster, and the hope for an eventual reversal endures. This is the chorus that calls out from the chasm. It is a small ensemble and its song is somber, but it chants in unison.

Projecting a Catastrophe So why then, in the absence of evidence to this effect, do scholars speak of mass apostasy and a “shattered” Judaism? Here we must confront an additional problem when it comes to interpreting 70 ce. For some historians of ancient Judaism, analogies to more recent events—the Holocaust, the Shoah above all—seem ineluctable (Klawans 2010). The notion of a post‐catastrophic theological crisis arises from this kind of analogical thinking. What is perceived to have happened after 1945 is projected back on to our evidentiary chasm following 70 ce. This kind of projection proceeds in a few ways, sometimes simultaneously. On one level, the experience of Jews after 70 ce is compared to the traumatic experiences of Holocaust survivors. It is a truism that many Shoah survivors suffered in silence for decades and spoke more openly about their experiences only decades later. So, too, it is averred, did the survivors of 70 ce need some time in order to make sense of their experience (Bokser 1983,


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pp. 60–61; Goodman 2007, pp. 426–427). On another level, what matters is more communal and religious than individual and psychological: catastrophe leads to a spiritual crisis, but new theologies develop slowly. Therefore, just as post‐Holocaust thought emerges as a self‐conscious theological movement in the 1960s, so too rabbinic Judaism appeared decades—or even centuries?—after 70 ce (again, see Bokser 1983, pp. 60–61; Goodman 2007, pp. 426–427). There is a third way the analogy operates, though this can be more difficult to discern: even without mentioning the Holocaust, scholarly discussions of Judaism “shattered” may well be informed, consciously or not, by the catastrophes of the contemporary Jewish experience (Schwartz 2013, pp. 17–18, responding in part to Klawans 2010). Here, too, we find the notion of a crisis brought about by unprecedented tragedy: the dogmas of the past are inadequate to the stormy present. Judaism then as now is shattered, broken by its inability to explain the catastrophe (see Schwartz 2001, pp. 108–109, quoted above). In these ways, the calamity of 70 ce (a historical event) turns into an unprecedented communal trauma, marked by a consequent theological crisis—the ostensible symptoms of which are mass apostasy, stunned silence, and even the shattering of Judaism altogether.

Countering a Projection Analogies between 70 ce and 1945 may be more problematic than helpful but nevertheless must be addressed, precisely because they operate both consciously and unconsciously for many scholars and their audiences alike (see Klawans 2010). Moreover, once the contrasts are established, perhaps some meaningful similarities can be reconsidered. The problems are compounded by the fact that the understanding of the Holocaust commonly read back on to 70 ce—theological crisis and stunned silence after 1945—is no longer the reigning historical paradigm as it was when these analogies were first frequently drawn in the 1970s and 1980s (by Bokser, Neusner, and others). There can be no doubt that the image of the traumatized survivor speaking out later in life is perfectly real: perhaps readers of this volume have been fortunate to witness this phenomenon during what will likely be its final decades. However, one phenomenon can too easily cloud out another. It is equally true that many Holocaust survivors were able to put their experiences into words (or art or music) a few short years after the events at hand: Paul Celan and Primo Levi come to mind as two salient examples (Celan’s Death Fugue was published by 1948; Levi’s If This Is a Man first appeared in 1947; for a fuller picture of the way survivors reacted and reconstructed their lives, see Mankowitz 2002). We must also include in our purview not only literature written by survivors but also works written by those who were lucky enough to escape direct personal assault yet who nevertheless were emotionally impacted by the events and motivated to react. Modern examples include figures such as Theodor Adorno, Martin Buber, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Arnold Schoenberg, and Erich Zeisl (all of whom were active in the 1940s and 1950s). The ancient analogs would include Josephus who lived through, but did not suffer the worst of, the events of 70 ce. This is perhaps true of the authors of 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch. Here is the bottom line: the notion that personal trauma or national catastrophe leads naturally or inevitably to literary, artistic, or theological silence is simply false. False now; false then. The history of art, literature, and religion prove otherwise, rather easily.

Imagining Judaism after 70 ce


There is, however, one clear contrast between 1945 and 70 ce, pertaining to the disparate predominant religious understandings of the events. It has become a truism of Jewish post‐Holocaust thought that the Shoah is in some fashion unique, if not in human experience, then at least unique in the Jewish experience (e.g., Halivni 2007). On the level of practice, the traditional Jewish break with the past can best be seen in the dedication of a special day (Yom ha‐Shoah) to Holocaust commemoration, thereby separating the calamities of the last century from the destructions of the temple (586 bce and 70 ce; see Neusner 1995, pp. 110–111). These earlier events—along with many other historical catastrophes perceived as traumatic by the Jewish people—have been traditionally commemorated on the above‐mentioned fast day of the Ninth of Av (see m. Ta‘an. 4: 6; the traditional observance falls a day earlier than the date recorded by Jeremiah and Josephus). At the same time, the very existence of “post‐Holocaust” thought underscores the rupture the event is perceived to have opened in Jewish theology (again, see Halivni 2007). There are, to be sure, some paradoxical efforts to root modern post‐Holocaust thought in ancient Jewish reactions to 70 ce (e.g., Rubenstein 1980). However, such efforts overlook one key fact patently clear to first century Jews who thought carefully about the events of their day: what happened in 70 ce had already happened once before, in 586 bce. Modern Jews may think (correctly or not) that the Holocaust represents a singular rift in time, an unprecedented cataclysm requiring reactions entailing self‐consciously new beliefs and practices. There is, however, no reason to think ancient Jews thought this way about the events of 70  ce (Neusner 1995; Klawans 2010). To the contrary, the preponderance of evidence suggests that ancient Jews were able to interpret the destruction of the Second Temple by Rome in 70 ce in the light of a preceding event, the destruction of the First Temple by Babylon in 586 bce. Students and scholars who are reminded of 1945 when thinking of 70 ce would do well to remember this single fundamental important contrast.

Unanswered Questions? This is not to say that no difficult questions arose in 70 ce. Wondering whether Judaism “shattered” should not lead us to the claim that “nothing much changed,” whether for Jews of Israel or the diaspora. Between the extremes described earlier, we need to find a middle way. On the one hand, many Jews were likely quite saddened, even distraught, by the temple’s loss. On the other hand, the Jewish tradition of the time was well‐equipped to provide explanation, comfort, and even hope. In spite of everything, the events of 70 ce had all happened once before. The hard questions that were asked in 70 ce had been asked—and even answered—after 586 bce. Let us begin with a question that we know was asked after 70 ce. If the Jews were being punished for their sins, were not their murderous and idolatrous tormentors even worse? This question is asked, albeit in apocalyptic code, by the author of 4 Ezra (3: 28–29): Are the deeds of those who inhabit Babylon any better? Is that why it has gained dominion over Zion? For when I came here I saw ungodly deeds without number, and my soul has seen many sinners during these thirty years. And my heart has failed me ….


Jonathan Klawans

The question itself points toward an answer. The Romans were not the first sinful empire to destroy Israel—the Babylonians, and even the Assyrians, provide precedents. Biblical prophets had already raised this question (e.g., Hab. 1: 12–17) and they also provided the answer: the evil empires will soon fall, too (e.g., Hab. 2: 2–20). This is 4 Ezra’s answer as well (4: 26): “If you are alive, you will see, and if you live long, you will often marvel, because the age is hurrying swiftly to its end.” There is another question that is often thought to be at the heart of the theological crisis following 70 ce: the “fact” that the temple’s demise—and the end of sacrificial atonement—left the punished Jewish people without any means of penitence. The question is asked explicitly in a late, but well‐known, rabbinic source (Avot de‐Rabbi Natan A 4 // B 8; see Bokser 1983, p. 38). According to this tradition, Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai and Rabbi Joshua were walking by the temple’s ruins. When Joshua bewailed the loss—and the inability to atone for Israel’s sins—ben Zakkai said: My son, do not be grieved, for we have another atonement that is just like it. And which is it? Acts of loving‐kindness, as it is said (Hos. 6: 6): “For I desire loving‐kindness, and not sacrifice.”

So this question too has an answer: in the absence of the temple, various forms of piety (prayer, study, acts of loving‐kindness) can suffice, but it is a mistake to view the statement attributed to Ben Zakkai as revolutionary (cf. Bokser 1983, pp. 38–39; Goodman 2007, p. 427). Avot de Rabbi Natan A 4 continues by discussing the case of Daniel, saved in the lions’ den in exile by prayer. There is nothing notable about this exegesis; this is just a straightforward reading of Daniel 6: 1–24. Closer to 70 ce, when reacting to the violation of the temple during the Seleucid era (c. 167 bce), both 1 and 2 Maccabees express various emotions and raise sundry questions, but neither seems particularly concerned with the problem of atoning for sin without the temple (see, for example, 1 Macc. 1: 62–2: 14; 2 Macc. 6: 12–17). To the contrary, the heroism and prayers of the Maccabees (1 Macc. 3: 46–57; 2 Macc. 8: 1–4) and the sufferings of the martyrs (2 Macc. 8: 3) are able to turn God’s wrath into mercy, even without any sacrificial atonement. Josephus, it would appear, agrees; his Antiquities retells the stories of Daniel and the Maccabees, and once again God’s wrath turns to mercy, even in the absence of sacrificial atonement. The crisis of atonement after 70 ce is a scholarly myth (see Klawans 2010, pp. 304–305), ­making too much of a rhetorical question in a single, late rabbinic source. The availability of non‐sacrificial atonement is not news in the late rabbinic period, and it was not news in 70 ce either. What about larger questions? Perhaps some Jews lost faith altogether after 70 ce (Schremer 2010) or came to believe—like the Gnostics—that the creator of this world is unjust and capricious (Williams 1992). Anything is possible, and nothing can be disproven, considering our lack of sources. Just as there was apostasy before 70 ce (to wit, Tiberius Julius Alexander: Ant. 20.100), surely there was some apostasy after 70 ce (to wit, the rabbinic stories of the second century ce sage, Elisha ben Abuya: e.g., y. Hag. 2: 1, 77b). However, the theory of mass apostasy stretches credulity. Generally, one important motivation for apostasy was social mobility. We can surmise that this was Tiberius Julius Alexander’s motivation; perhaps we could say the same of Herod’s

Imagining Judaism after 70 ce


Romanized descendants (see Josephus, Ant. 18.141), but upward social mobility may have been hampered after 70 ce, even for apostates. When post‐destruction Jewish sources do reflect on reasons for apostasy, the destruction of the temple hardly figures. For example, Elisha ben Abuya’s apostasy is said, according to one account, to have been brought about by the unjust death of a child (e.g., y. Hag. 2: 1, 77b). Importantly, we have no idea why (or, truth be told, even if) these figures completely turned their backs on Judaism. As for Gnosticism, we do not know when or where it began, let alone why. The Jewish temple hardly figures in any Gnostic texts; its destruction seems to have been a non‐event for the Gnostics (Williams 1992). While no possibility can be precluded, we have no good reason to assume that mass apostasy followed 70 ce. In fact, in the immediate aftermath of 70 ce, many Jews would have had justifications— both religious and political—to hope that the temple would soon be rebuilt (Goodman 2007, pp. 427–428). In the aftermath of 70 ce, some Jewish texts asked heartfelt, even anguished, questions, but the Jewish tradition of the time was relatively well‐equipped to answer such questions. This is not to say that Judaism could weather any given situation—certainly not—but it just so happens that the events of 70 ce could be easily placed alongside earlier fixed points of ancient Israel’s sacred story: the destruction of the temple by Rome in 70 ce was ­understood as a replay of the destruction of the temple by Babylon in 586 bce. There was no unprecedented crisis because everything that happened in 70 ce happened once before. The questions that would be asked—how to atone without a temple; why Israel is punished by more sinful nations—are questions that had already been asked and answered. Whether we look at Josephus, 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch, or even later rabbinic texts (e.g., b. Git. 55b–56b; Lamentations Rabbah) the Jewish explanations of 70 ce remain very close to the answers offered after 586 bce. These signs point to a historical catastrophe without a theological crisis.

Clarifying Survival Some historians still object: by minimizing the perception of crisis, do we not risk underestimating the very real, tangible suffering of actual people? With both 70 ce and the Holocaust admittedly on his mind, Seth Schwartz (2013, p. 18) pointedly asserts: … if there is no Judaism without Jews then the death of large numbers of them cannot leave “Judaism” unharmed, however much theologians may strive to console themselves and others by arguing that this is not the case.

This is an important corrective. Herein we find the real value of the risk‐laden analogy we have been considering. Even though the contemporary Jewish reaction to recent events seems very different than the ancient Jewish reaction to 70 ce, the fresher memories of the present catastrophe serve one purpose very well. That is to remind us that the history of a religion is also the history of the real people who adhered to it and practiced it. Following Schwartz’s lead, we should think even more carefully about death and survival, and the natural inclinations of those who endure a catastrophe.


Jonathan Klawans

To assess the social historical and demographic impacts of 70 ce, we would need to quantify death and exile as best we can—but our sources do not allow us to be any more precise than we were in the opening paragraphs of this essay. Still this is where we need to attend to the social historians: there can be no doubt that 70 ce brought about significant transformations including death and dislocation for many individuals, as well as breakdowns of social institutions and networks (Schwartz 2013, pp. 13–15). Surely Jewish society was transformed in these ways, though numbers and percentages remain unknowable and untraceable. Does this mean that Judaism shattered? A theological crisis is not a social–historical event but a religious-historical one. To assess the religious impact of the event, we need to focus not on the deceased of 70 ce but on the survivors and those (numerous, no doubt) fortunate enough to have escaped direct assault. This is where those who speak of theological crises, mass apostasy, and the shattering of Judaism have forgotten to think about the very real and tangible experience of surviving defeat. Thinking more carefully about surviving defeat actually does not take a great deal of imagination: we can think of any losing side in almost any war. Even as the survivors mourn the dead, they, perhaps inevitably, go about the business of rebuilding their lives, in exile if need be. In some cases, survivors seek revenge (against their former enemies or perhaps against minorities in their own midst; cf. Psalm 137); in others, they bide their time (waiting for the tables to turn; cf. Jer. 29). In many cases—sadly enough—many survivors blame themselves or their own kind (cf. once again, 2 Kings 24: 1–4; 2 Chron. 36: 13–21). However, survivors of defeat do not typically line up behind their tormentors, turning their backs largely or completely on whatever they lived for previously. This is precisely why so many ethno‐religious conflicts prove so intractable. Even a decisive defeat is rarely enough to erase the identity or socio‐religious commitments of the defeated; ethnicities frequently persist through catastrophe (Smith 1992). We have every reason to think this was true of Jewish survivors of 70 ce as well; after all, further revolts against Rome (in the Diaspora and Israel) were only decades off in the future (Goodman 2007, pp. 442–469). There is one more point, not to be missed: survivors often take at least some modicum of comfort from the cold fact of their own survival. Survivor’s guilt and post‐traumatic stress are real, but that is only half of the story. Anecdotal evidence abounds: the accident survivor who interprets her luck as divine favor; the cancer survivor who believes his family’s prayers were answered. S. Schwartz is correct to emphasize that Judaism is harmed by dead Jews, but it is a mistake to drive a wedge between theological consolation and the experience of survival. The religious reaction to a catastrophe cannot be found in the corpses, however many there may have been. The religious reaction to the catastrophe can only be found among those who lived through the catastrophe—and who quite likely, perhaps inevitably, took some comfort in their very survival. It is not sentimental to think that survivors of a catastrophe can regain hope. Again, anecdotal evidence abounds; at the risk of bringing back a problematic analogy, it is worthwhile to point out that the best way to put the lie to the claim that survivors of the Holocaust fell into a stunned silence is to attend carefully to what survivors did (and wrote) between 1945 and 1948. Despite the anguish and suffering, hope is not missing from this narrative (see, again, Mankowitz 2002). Neither is resilience.

Imagining Judaism after 70 ce


The Sects and 70 ce In the introduction to his widely used and eminently readable translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Geza Vermes (2004, p. 25) offers the following explanation for the disappearance of the Essenes, which he associates with the Roman destruction of Qumran in 68 ce: Essenism is dead. The brittle structure of its stiff and exclusive brotherhood was unable to withstand the national catastrophe which struck Palestinian Judaism in 70 ce. Animated by the loftiest of ideals and devoted to the observance of “perfect holiness,” it lacked the pliant strength and the elasticity of thought and depth of spiritual vision which enabled rabbinic Judaism to thrive and flourish.

This passage is fascinating in many respects, but what matters for our concerns is the supposition that Essene ideology was religiously unable to withstand, let alone respond to, the catastrophe of 70 ce—it was too stiff to adapt, too strict to survive. The group’s disappearance is explained by its inadequacies, which in turn made room for better things. There is something very disturbing about this. To suggest—especially after 1945—that the obliteration of any particular historical religious community is to be explained by some inadequacy in that community’s religious thought or practice seems particularly insensitive. One might as well suggest that Armenian Christianity in Asia Minor was religiously inadequate or that Polish Judaism was just too stiff or rigid. We no longer blame victims—at least not in polite company. We should not blame the victims of the ancient past either. Leaving moral concerns aside, the fact of the matter is that the historical arguments for the disappearance of the Essenes right after 70 ce are just as invalid as the arguments for the shattering of Judaism in general. Our sources tell us less than we would hope, so some scholars fill in the blanks with what modern analogies or ideologies would suggest should have happened. However, our sources tell us more than nothing, and it behooves us to attend carefully to what they do say. As Martin Goodman has emphasized, practically everything we know about the Essenes (and the Sadducees too) comes from writers who write after 70 ce (Josephus included). Virtually all of these writers speak as if these groups are still around. No writer before Epiphanius of Salamis, in the fourth century ce, refers to the disappearance of the Sadducees, Essenes, or other ancient Jewish schools or sects (Panarion 19.5.6–7; 20.3.1–4; Goodman 1994, 347–350). The destruction of Qumran does not tell us when the Essenes disappeared and nothing tells us why. The disappearance of Sadducaism is often explained by virtue of the fact that a priestly, aristocratic group tied to the temple would not be able to withstand its destruction in 70 ce (Herford 1917, p. 4). However, the priesthood did not disappear after 70 ce—their enduring legacy can be seen in the vast priestly concerns of rabbinic and even mystical Jewish literature (Alexander 2009). The Sadducees should not be equated with the priesthood, but the endurance of one highlights the possible endurance of the other. As for Sadducean theology, here, too, scholars can be unduly judgmental. Herford (1917, p. 8), for instance, suggested that Judaism “stood to gain rather than lose, by the disappearance of the Sadducees,” but if we can conjure even an ounce of sympathy for the Sadducees, we can see how problematic such views are.


Jonathan Klawans

What we said above applies here as well. Sadducees who knew the biblical story would have had no difficulty reaching the general conclusions everyone else did, that the events of 70 ce can be understood in the light of biblical history. Moreover, there are some ways Sadducean theology may have been particularly well adapted to respond to the crisis. Josephus tells us that the Sadducees “removed God beyond not merely the commission, but the very sight of evil” (J.W. 2.164). This is not at all dissimilar to the notion of God hiding his face when punishment is meted out on Israel (Deut. 31.17–18). This belief complements another Sadducean commitment, to an unbounded free will to choose to do good or evil (Jos., J.W. 2.164). Whatever one thinks of such beliefs, it would be unwise to consider them inadequate to the challenges of 70 ce. For what little modern analogies are worth, it is notable that both the “hidden face” metaphor and the “free will defense” (explaining evil by God’s granting of an unlimited freedom of choice) play prominent roles in modern Jewish attempts to account for the Shoah. Radical earthly evil can be understood as the dangerous corollary to unrestricted human freedom, perhaps especially when God is in eclipse (for a discussion of both concepts see Halivni 2007, pp. 31–34). According to Josephus, it was the Sadducees who had embraced these ideas, perhaps even before 70 ce, so we should not downplay the potential power of Sadducean theology to respond to 70 ce. Their ­disappearance—whenever it occurred—will have to be explained by other factors. So why, then, did the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and others disappear? Here, too, the gaping holes in our evidence leave us only one intellectually honest answer: we have no idea. As dissatisfying as this answer is, it may be safer than filling in our gaps with guesses about what made one sect fail or why another just was not up to the task of survival. It seems likely that the rabbinic Judaism that emerged gradually after 70 ce eventually absorbed not just the Pharisaic tradition that preceded it but some remnants of Sadducean and other groups as well (Cohen 1984). It also remains possible that the Sadducees—and even Essenes and others—carried on independently for some time after 70 ce, perhaps leaving their imprint on other later developments on or beyond the boundary of rabbinic Judaism, such as Karaism or Hekhalot mysticism (Alexander 2009). There is one last ancient Jewish group to consider: early Christians. As noted above, a number of scholars (e.g., Dunn 2006) view 70 ce as a turning point for the nascent Christian movement, a milestone in the “partings of the ways” between Judaism and Christianity (see Haney, Chapter 15). Leaving aside the controversies regarding the timing of these “partings,” what matters here is to consider the Christian attitudes toward the temple and its destruction. Briefly put, the predominant Christian view understands the destruction of the temple as a fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy (Matt. 24: 1–2; Mark 13: 1–2; Luke 21: 5–6). According to Acts, Jesus’s successors in Jerusalem at first worshipped in the temple on a daily basis; later they faced persecution in Jerusalem after Stephen was heard speaking against the shrine (Acts 6: 7–8: 3). The book of Hebrews fleshes out Christian anti‐priestly and anti‐temple perspectives, establishing a contrast between the ineffectual, temporal, earthly temple in Jerusalem and the true temple in heaven ministered by God and his Christ (Heb. 8: 1‐2): Now the main point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heavens, a minister in the sanctuary and the true tent that the Lord, and not any mortal, has set up.

Imagining Judaism after 70 ce


For believers in these ideas, the destruction of the temple posed no crisis at all: the event was understood as a fulfillment of Jesus’ own predictions, the deserved demise of a doomed and dated institution (e.g., Eusebius, History 3.1–8; Reinhartz 2014). There was, however, one group of Christians who would have likely experienced the destruction as a catastrophe: Jewish–Christians. We know very little about Jewish believers in Jesus, but to whatever degree they struggled to maintain fidelity to Torah and solidarity with other Jews, they too would have suffered defeat and experienced despair. These Jewish followers of Jesus—like the other Jewish sectarians—will also eventually disappear, though it would be a mistake to think they vanished right after 70 ce or as a result of what happened at that time. They, too, could have explained the catastrophe and hoped for an immanent reversal.

Looking Ahead: Imagining Catastrophe Without Crisis Any understanding of 70 ce must be informed by the reality of the catastrophe. Without a doubt, 70 ce marks a significant disaster in the history of the Jewish people. Many lives were lost and other lives were shattered by injury, assault, and exile. The suffering was real and it should not be minimized. Even if it means risking sentimentality, it is worth repeating that the catastrophe of 70 ce is still commemorated annually: traditional Jews continue to fast and mourn on the Ninth of Av. The social and religious significance of the destruction should not be underestimated. Important objections notwithstanding, scholars will continue to point to 70 ce, with justification, as a watershed moment in the history of Judaism. In these respects, S. Schwartz (2013, p. 18) is certainly correct: if thinking about recent catastrophes helps students and scholars think more sensitively about 70 ce, then the analogy serves a purpose indeed. Yet understandings of 70 ce must resist the temptation to overplay the “theological crisis” card. If we had evidence for a theological crisis, then we would have to face it. What we have evidence for, however, is a historical catastrophe. The resulting theological crisis appears not in ancient sources but from modern minds. For many contemporary ­thinkers— perhaps academically oriented ones most of all old covenants no longer hold in the face of modern catastrophes; traditional theodicy is no longer possible. However, it is a mistake to project these modern ideas on to the past: all signs (that is, all our extant sources) suggest, quite to the contrary, that ancient Jews from Josephus to the rabbis incorporated the events of their day into the narratives of their past (Neusner 1995, pp. 110–111). After all, the narratives of the past turned out to be rather well‐suited to the challenge of 70 ce (Klawans 2010). It is likely that there was some apostasy, and there surely was some dissent, but evidence for a theological crisis is lacking. There is more that is lacking. For all the discussion about catastrophe and crisis after 70  ce, there is very little probing of the problematic correlation between historical crisis and theological innovation. Scholars who have looked at the broader dynamic have come up dry: religious innovation and historical crisis do not correlate in any patterned way (see Williams 1992). Perhaps if we understood this broader dynamic better, we would be in a better place to speculate about the aftermath of 70 ce. There is only one thing we have in abundance: uncertainty. When did the Essenes disappear and why? When did Gnosticism emerge and why? When did the Pharisees evolve into


Jonathan Klawans

rabbis? How many Jews abandoned Judaism? What impact did 70 ce have on Jewish– Christians? These and many other questions are ones we simply cannot answer with any certainly, for our extant Jewish sources from the decades after the destruction do not provide sufficient guidance. We need to learn to live with that uncertainty. We also need to learn that there is a way to walk between the binary extremes displayed in some recent works on the subject. There is plenty of space between “shattered Judaism” and “not much changed.” As more scholars occupy this middle ground, then those at either extreme will have to grant that this central space exists. Even if few scholars consciously occupy this space today, we have many reasons to think that some unknowable, but not insignificant, number of Jewish survivors of 70 ce explored that territory long ago, navigating between memory and hope, between mourning for Zion and hoping for the temple’s eventual reconstruction.

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Reinhartz, Adele (2014). The destruction of the Jerusalem Temple as a trauma for nascent Christianity. In: Trauma and Traumatization in Individual and Collective Dimensions: Insights from Biblical Studies and Beyond (eds. Eve‐Marie Becker, Jan Dochhorn, and Else Kragelund Holt), 275–287. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht GmbH. Rubenstein, Richard L. (1980). The fall of Jerusalem and the birth of Holocaust theology. In: Go and Study: Essays and Studies in Honor or Alfred Jospe (eds. Raphael Jospe and Samuel Z. Fishman), 223–240. Washington DC: B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundations. Schremer, Adiel (2010). Brothers Estranged: Heresy, Christianity, and Jewish Identity in Late Antiquity. New York: Oxford University Press. Schwartz, Daniel R. and Weiss, Zeev, in collaboration with Ruth Clements (eds.) (2012). Was 70 CE a Watershed in Jewish History?: On Jews and Judaism Before and After the Destruction of the Second Temple. Leiden: Brill. Schwartz, Seth (2001). Imperialism and Jewish Society, 200 B.C.E. to 640 C.E. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Schwartz, Seth (2013). Was there a ‘Common Judaism’ after the destruction? In: Envisioning Judaism: Studies in Honor of Peter Schäfer on the Occasion of His Seventieth Birthday (eds. Ra’anan S. Boustan, Klaus Herrmann, Reimund Leicht, Annette Y. Reed, and Giuseppe Veltri, with the collaboration of Alex Ramos), 2 vols., 1: 3–21. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. Smith, Anthony D. (1992). Chosen peoples: why ethnic groups survive. Ethnic and Racial Studies 15 (3): 436–456. DOI: 10.1080/01419870.1992.9993756. Tuval, Michael (2013). From Jerusalem Priest to Roman Jew: On Josephus and the Paradigms of Ancient Judaism. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. Vermes, Geza (2004). The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English, revised edn. New York: Penguin. Williams, Michael A. (1992). The demonizing of the demiurge: the innovation of Gnostic myth. In: Innovation in Religious Traditions: Essays in the Interpretation of Religious Change (eds. Michael A. Williams, Collett Cox, and Martin S. Jaffee), 73–107. Berlin: de Gruyter.


Rabbis and the Poor in Palestinian Amoraic Literature and the Babylonian Talmud Alyssa M. Gray Introduction Rabbinic literature of the third through the seventh centuries ce abounds in hundreds of passages pertaining to poverty and the poor. These centuries constitute the “Amoraic Period,” the era of rabbinic sages known as “amoraim” (“sayers” of tradition) in both Palestine (mid‐third through the fourth centuries) and Babylonia (mid‐third through the seventh centuries). These scholars are the successors of the mostly Palestinian “tannaim” (“repeaters” of tradition) of the first century through shortly before the mid‐third century. This essay will survey mainly amoraic literature, notably the Palestinian and Babylonian Talmuds (early fifth and seventh centuries, respectively) and the fourth to fifth centuries of Palestinian collections of midrash (rabbinic exegesis and homily) of Genesis Rabbah, Leviticus Rabbah, and Pesikta de‐Rav Kahana. In these compilations we may distinguish four categories of poor people: (1) wealthy people who have fallen into poverty, (2) people whose poverty is explicitly or implicitly described as having some larger religious or cultural significance, or who are described metaphorically as “poor” whether or not they are materially deprived (most likely rabbis or “holy men”), (3) some, but not all, orphans and widows, and (4) people explicitly identified by Hebrew or Aramaic words for “poor” (and who are not explicitly identified as members of one of the other categories). This essay’s focus is category (4). Gildas Hamel has pointed out the predominance of the Hebrew term “ani” (poor) to designate the poor in Palestinian amoraic literature and the Babylonian Talmud (Hamel 1990, p. 167). The Aramaic equivalent (found mostly in Palestinian literature) is “miskena” in the singular (a cognate of the Hebrew “misken,” “poor”) and “miskenin” or “miskenaya” in the plural. Implicitly male, the ani (poor) has A Companion to Late Ancient Jews and Judaism: Third Century bce to Seventh Century ce, First Edition. Edited by Naomi Koltun-Fromm and Gwynn Kessler. © 2020 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published 2020 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


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limited means, little or no land, and only a few possessions. We must recognize that the implicit masculinity of the ani inevitably distorts our view of chronic poverty in the literature, occluding other vulnerable and specifically identified groups such as widows, orphans, and abandoned babies.

The Quotidian Lives of the Poor Palestinian Amoraic Literature Palestinian literature thematizes downward social mobility rather than pervasive, chronic poverty. This is colorfully expressed by Leviticus Rabbah’s use of the water wheel as a metaphor for poverty: just as the water wheel draws water up from a cistern and empties it out in a continuous cycle, so do individuals rise laden with possessions, become impoverished, and experience the cyclical nature of this process (Lev. Rab. 34: 9). The sage Bar Kappara similarly (albeit less colorfully) observes that everyone experiences poverty: if a person himself does not bear the burden, then his son or grandson eventually will (y. Git. 3: 7, 45a; Lev. Rab. 34: 14). Gaining and losing wealth is characteristic of the formerly wealthy poor; those poor whose lives are more typically characterized by chronic poverty do not experience this pattern in practice. However, sources on gaining and losing wealth have an important implication for them: they demonstrate that Palestinian rabbis do not see being poor as an immutable identity. There are people who fluctuate between poverty and having means; being poor therefore is not inherently a permanent status. Leviticus Rabbah 34: 6 collects seven biblical terms for the poor and arranges them in a descending order of material and psychological distress: (1) ani (poor), (2) evyon (impoverished), (3) misken (scorned), (4) rash (dispossessed), (5) dal (denuded), (6) makh (lowly), and (7) dakh (crushed) (Wilfand 2014, p. 30). The definition of “ani” is said to be “according to its meaning,” that is, the ani is, literally, poor. Next comes the evyon; he is described as one who desires everything, his level of need being greater than that of the ani. The misken is described as being scorned by everyone, as per Ecclesiastes 9: 16, A poor man’s [misken] wisdom is scorned. The misken is thus socially degraded as well as materially impoverished. Skipping over the rash and dal we encounter the dakh, who is hauntingly described as “crushed,” entirely lacking in vitality. Leviticus Rabbah describes him as seeing something to eat yet not eating; he sees something to drink but does not do so. Finally, the makh is described as being like the “lower threshold” that people step on; others see him as barely human. Leviticus Rabbah’s poignant description of the hapless makh is reminiscent of Genesis Rabbah’s story of the poor man R. Yehoshua ben Levi saw in Rome. That poor man is described as wrapped in a mat or in half a donkey’s saddle cloth; he is also silent, unmoving, and entirely devoid of energy, like Leviticus Rabbah’s dakh (crushed) and makh (lowly) (Gen. Rab. 33: 1). The poor lack social status and may consequently find themselves excluded from even family celebrations, and may be too ashamed to be seen even by their friends (Lev. Rab. 34: 3; Gen. Rab. 91: 5). The Palestinian Talmud points out a contrast between human

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beings, who acknowledge their wealthy relatives and ignore their poor ones, and God, who calls poor Jews—even those on the lowest rung of society—“my brothers” and “my friends” (y. Ber. 9: 1, 13b). The poor are also described as being insulted and cursed by the rich, who deride them as healthy enough to work but lazy, preferring charitable ­support instead (Lev. Rab. 34: 4). Some Palestinian sources portray the poor as accepting their lot humbly and even prayerfully (y. Shab. 6: 10, 8d). Others portray them as angry and resentful. According to R. Yehudah b. R. Simon, the poor man complains: “What am I and what is So‐and‐so? So‐and‐so lives in his house and I live here. So‐and‐so sleeps on his bed, and I sleep on the ground” (Lev. Rab. 34: 16). The tanna R. Eliezer expresses satisfaction after being cursed by a group of the poor who ate in his home, describing this abuse as “a good reward” (y. Pe’ah 8: 7, 21a). Although the reason the poor cursed him is unclear, the portrayal of ungratefulness is striking, and this motif of the ungrateful poor is echoed later in the Babylonian Talmud. Hunger is (unsurprisingly) noted as a pervasive feature of the lives of the poor (Hamel 2010; Gardner 2015). An old man asks two students of R. Haninah for food, telling them he has not eaten in three days (y. Shab. 6: 10, 8d). Hunger also marks the poor physically. The destruction of the biblical Sodom is famously attributed to the story of two young girls who went to draw water from a well. One noticed her companion’s sick complexion and asked straightforwardly, “Why is your face sick?” The sick girl responded that “our food is gone and we’re about to die.” The first girl compassionately gave her food, for which the inhabitants of Sodom later burned her to death (Gen. Rab. 49: 6). The physical effect of hunger on one’s face is also deployed as part of the interpretation of Genesis 41: 56, The famine … spread over the whole world. R. Shmuel bar Nahmani later uses the Hebrew term “al p’nei” (“on the face of” or “whole”) to teach that famine begins with the rich; when a person is rich he has a happy countenance with which to greet his peer, but when he is poor he “has no face,” because he is embarrassed in the presence of others (Gen. Rab. 91: 5). The rabbinic attention to “famine” spreading over the “face” of the whole earth is thus a poignant way of noting the shadow cast by poverty over the faces of the poor, who in effect disappear from view. In the Babylonian Talmud as well, the Palestinian rabbis R. Yohanan and R. Eleazar interpret Psalm 12: 9 to mean that when a person has need of other people his face changes like a kerum, a bird that changes colors when the sun shines upon it (b. Ber. 6b). Palestinian traditions in both Palestine and Babylonia thus portray poverty as being written on the poor’s faces in the form of malnutrition and lack of social status.

The Lives of the Poor in the Babylonian Talmud Building on Mishnah Eruvin 4: 1’s discussion of a person who was removed beyond the Sabbath boundary by Gentiles or an evil spirit, the Babylonian Talmud presents a text that interprets the mishnah metaphorically: an individual suffering from “oppressive poverty” (dikdukei aniyyut) is said to be one of three persons deprived of rational faculties and a knowledge of their Creator. Similarly, the “oppressed poor” is said to be one of three categories of people who do not see the face of Gehinnom (“hell”), perhaps because ­suffering from oppressive poverty is itself a living hell (b. ‘Erub. 41b).


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Apropos, Rava asks Rabbah bar Mari if he knows an authoritative source to support the popular Babylonian saying “batar anya azla aniyuta” (“poverty follows after the poor”). Rabbah bar Mari quotes Mishnah Bikkurim 3: 8, according to which the rich would bring their first‐fruits to the priests in baskets covered with silver and gold, while the poor would bring theirs in baskets made of peeled willow branches. While the rich would keep their expensive baskets, the mishnah recounts that the poor would surrender their baskets to the priests along with their contents. Thus, the poor, who entered the Temple with little to begin with would leave it with even less. Rava’s source is Leviticus 13: 45, which says about the leper: … his clothes shall be rent, his head shall be left bare … and he shall call out, “Unclean! Unclean!” While Rabbah bar Mari sees poverty as a constant downward spiral of material deprivation, Rava sees the poor as social lepers: their poverty is a physical presence with them at all times, calling out to everyone around them to stay away (b. B. Qam. 92a–b). Elsewhere the Babylonian Talmud also describes being a poor man as the equivalent of being dead (b. Ned. 64a). Taken together, these latter two Babylonian traditions construct being poor as a form of extreme social marginalization. Moreover, note that Rava’s presentation of the scriptural source for “poverty follows after the poor” makes of poverty a rather stickier identity than what we saw earlier in Palestinian literature. Being poor is not an immutable identity—a leper can be cured, and presumably a poor person can cease to be so—but it is an identity harder to shake off than one might think from Leviticus Rabbah’s metaphor of the water wheel. As Rav Papa observes elsewhere in the Babylonian Talmud, “If you hear your friend has become rich—do not believe it” (b. Git. 30b). An interesting literary feature of the Babylonian Talmud is the presence within it of sets of traditions in which the dress and behavior of the rich and poor are explicitly juxtaposed and contrasted. Many of them read almost like anthropological field notes: they presume an external, analytical perspective belonging neither to the rich nor to the poor. These traditions describe the rich and poor as occupying separate spheres in the same general social space; they live parallel, non‐intersecting lives, doing similar things differently. Interestingly, a number of these comparative traditions are about women. The tanna R. Yehudah states that no pledge may be taken from a widow whether she is wealthy or poor, while R. Shimon disagrees about a wealthy widow (b. B. Metsi‘a 115a). The Babylonian Talmud quotes a second or third century Palestinian text that distinguishes between how kings’ daughters hide their afterbirths (in bowls of oil), wealthy women (in wool), and poor women (in soft rags) (b. Shab. 129b). Another allegedly tannaitic source distinguishes between the couch and mattress that a representative of the court must leave for a wealthy debtor (and not take as a pledge), and the less luxurious couch and matting that he must leave for the poor debtor (although he need not leave anything at all for the ­latter’s wife and children) (b. B. Metsi‘a 113b). An allegedly tannaitic narrative about Shimon ben Shetach’s decree about the ketubah (marriage contract) mentions a stage in the development of that institution in which wealthy women would convert the value of their ketubah to gold and silver baskets, and poor women to brass tubs (b. Ketub. 82b). Note that in all these traditions rich and poor women’s lives resemble each other: both live lives in which pledges, afterbirths, and the conversion of the ketubah amount to physical

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items of value are relevant. Yet they do things differently and the rabbinic tradents find these similarities and differences to be noteworthy. The amora Rav Yehudah in the name of Rav states that poor girls who enter puberty early put on a face mask made of lime, wealthy girls use a floral preparation, and kings’ daughters use myrrh (b. Mo’ed Qat. 9b). Rav Huna reports that wealthy women make their totafot (possibly an amulet of some kind) of gold and silver, and poor women of dyed items (b. Shab. 57b). Although not an explicit comparison, R. Yohanan observes that an implicitly poor man weaves three strands of goats’ hair together to form a pouch to hang around his daughter’s neck (b. Shab. 64a). Abaye employs synecdoche in asking Rav Yosef whether the poor woman and “Martha bat Baitos” (an extremely wealthy woman of the late Second Temple period) really should be given the same amount of time in which to collect on their marriage contracts as R. Meir implies in the local mishnah (b. Ketub. 104a). (Abaye’s implication is that the rich woman should have more time; Rav Yosef demurs.) Two traditions—not comparisons, as we have been examining so far—stand out for their warm championing of the cause of widows and impoverished children. Rav states that it is better to be subservient to an Arab than to a nokhri (stranger), to a nokhri than to a Persian priest, to a Persian priest than to a Torah sage, and to a Torah sage than to an orphan and a widow (b. Shab. 11a). Any subservience, then, is better than subservience to an orphan and widow, presumably because God will act against the latter’s oppressor immediately upon hearing their cry (e.g., Exod. 22: 21–23). Abaye mentions the “tinok ani” (poor child) for whom the community is responsible and for whom there may be a relaxation of the prohibition of carrying a shofar (ram’s horn) in public on the Sabbath should there be a need to use it to give the child a drink (b. Shab. 36a). There are other “anthropological field notes” about the poor. Abaye teaches that a poor man eats his bread, made of unsifted dough (b. Shab. 76b), without pounding (consequently, the poor’s bread includes the husk of the wheat) (b. Shab. 74a). R. Zera tells Rav Yosef that according to Ulla, most poor people bake bread by placing the flame outside the oven into which the dough has been placed (b. Pesah. 37b). Abaye points to the popular saying “the poor man is hungry and does not know it” (until food is placed in front of him), a poignant commentary on chronic hunger (b. Meg. 7b). Abaye also mentions “poor’s clothes for the poor, the rich’s clothes for the rich,” (b. Shab. 47a) and that one who is too poor to drink anything but water may suffer from croup because “poverty follows after the poor” (b. Hul. 105b). Abaye also notes that a poor man makes a small three‐legged stool upon which to place his pot and R. Yirmiyah mentions that a poor person digs a hole in the ground to hide his coins (b. Shab. 102b). Although not a comparative tradition, we should briefly consider the Babylonian Talmud’s portrayal of an aspect of a poor man’s daily life at the beginning of tractate Berakhot (b. Ber. 2b). Tzvi Novick points out that the talmudic redactors use the homely example of the poor man’s evening meal to help fix the earliest time at which the evening Shema may be recited. The poor man is described as eating before nightfall, which may be because he has no candles or perhaps more likely because he received his food from a communal charity and did not work, thus enabling him to eat while it was still daylight (Novick 2014, p. 28).


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Portrayals of Rabbinic Interpersonal Interactions with the Poor Palestinian amoraic literature portrays rabbis as interacting personally with the poor, although these interactions are not always portrayed as positive for either or both sides. R. Berekhiah is approached by a Babylonian mamzer (a socially marginalized product of an illicit sexual union) who requests alms. R. Berekhiah arranged a pesika b’tzibbura (a public pledging and collection) the next day (Lev. Rab. 32: 7). The mamzer reproaches R. Berekhiah afterward because the latter embarrassed him by identifying him publicly as a mamzer. Thus, neither side emerges completely whole from this encounter. Nahum Ish Gam Zu’s trip to bring a gift to his father‐in‐law is interrupted by a poor man who asks for alms. Nahum asks the man to await his return but then finds him dead, which leads him to a conscience‐stricken paroxysm of self‐punishment (y. Pe’ah 8: 9, 21b). Stretching the bounds of what we might label “personal contact,” we might consider the account given of R. Akiva immediately following that of R. Eliezer, who we earlier observed was blessed and cursed by two successive groups of the poor who ate in his house. R. Akiva is said to have accepted appointment as a parnas (a Palestinian communal official with some responsibility for social welfare) on the condition that he be reviled (y. Pe’ah 8: 7, 21a; Fraade 2011). One notably unambiguously positive interpersonal interaction is the Palestinian Talmud’s story of the two students of R. Haninah and a poor man whom they feed; he blesses them for their generosity, as a result of which they escape a death to which they had otherwise been fated (y. Shab. 6: 10, 8d). The Babylonian Talmud’s portrayal of personal contact between rabbis (or others) and the poor is almost uniformly negative. Mar Ukba runs away from a poor person to whom he was regularly generous, and his panicked haste leads to his being burned in the recently used oven to which he ran for shelter with his wife (b. Ketub. 67a). Rav Papa’s near fall from a ladder is attributed to the possibility that he failed to give charity to a poor person (b. B. Bat. 10a). Imma Shalom’s attention to a poor man at the door prevents her from interrupting the prayer of her husband R. Eliezer, who thereby causes the death of her brother Rabban Gamliel (who was responsible for R. Eliezer’s excommunication) (b. B.  Metsi‘a 59b). The Angel of Death was able to seize R. Hiyya after (mis)identifying himself as a poor man at the door (b. Mo’ed Qat. 28a) and Plimo (a rabbinic sage) was tormented by Satan disguised as a demanding, ungrateful poor man (b. Qidd. 81a–b). Rava is also discomfited as a result of his personal interaction with a needy, formerly wealthy man (b. Ketub. 67b). Personal interactions between rabbis and the poor, and, arguably, between anyone and the poor, are portrayed as fraught with the potential of danger. Danger is, as it were, a force field that surrounds the poor (although this does not always apply equally to women, see b. Shab. 156b). Impoverished workers are an exception. Day laborers were said to have inadvertently broken a barrel of wine belonging to Rabbah bar Rav Hanan. Rav ordered Rabbah bar Rav Hanan to return the men’s cloaks he had seized and even obligated him to pay their wages, being moved by their plea: “We are poor men, we have labored the entire day, we are hungry, and we have nothing” (b. B. Metsi‘a 83a). Note the contrast between Rav and his near‐contemporary Mar Ukba. Mar Ukba runs away from a non‐working poor man

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and suffers harm, while Rav interacts with the working poor, intercedes robustly and even counter‐intuitively on their behalf, and suffers no harm. Rav also appears to be the first sage to posit a rabbinic law about paying workers’ wages on time, referred to as the prohibition of “bal tish’ha” (“do not delay”), supplementing Leviticus 19: 13 (The wages of a laborer shall not remain with you until morning). Rav Yosef later provides scriptural support for Rav’s innovation from Proverbs 3: 28 (Do not say to your fellow, “Come back again, I’ll give it to you tomorrow,” when you have it with you) (b. B. Metsi‘a 110b). In addition, both Talmuds portray Rav as teaching that Leviticus 25: 55 (For it is to Me that the Israelites are slaves: they are My slaves) is the scriptural source that permits a day laborer to stop working in the middle of the day, a key expression of autonomy that distinguishes him from a slave. The verse is understood to mean that Israelite workers are “My” (= God’s) slaves, not the “slaves of slaves” (i.e., of other Israelites); as the equals in God’s sight of their employers, workers can exercise autonomy to stop working. Only in the Babylonian Talmud is Rav’s linkage of Leviticus 25: 55 with this worker’s prerogative presented as having been transmitted and applied further into the amoraic period in Babylonia, where Rav Nahman and Rava also work with the idea (y. B. Metsi‘a 6: 2, 11a; b. B. Qam. 116b). The anonymous editorial voice of the Babylonian Talmud justifies a legal leniency extended toward low‐wage workers. Donkey‐drivers earn a higher wage and thus may be financially penalized for transporting agricultural produce during the Sabbatical year in violation of the prohibition against commerce in such produce. Day laborers earn a more modest wage and are not financially penalized for their involvement in that commerce (b. ‘Abod. Zar. 62b).

Theological Constructions of the Poor Palestinian amoraic literature makes a theological distinction between the formerly wealthy and chronically poor. Leviticus Rabbah attributes the descent into poverty of the formerly wealthy poor to their not having “extended their hands in the performance of mitzvoth” (“commandments,” perhaps referring in context to the giving of charity) or to their not having done the will of their “heavenly Father.” That very passage proposes an interpretation of Isaiah 58: 7’s the wretched poor, referring to those who were poor from their youth, an interpretation that does not at all imply that their poverty is due to sin (Lev. Rab. 34: 13). Indeed, in a world in which obtaining daily sustenance (parnasah) is said to be comparable in its miraculous nature to redemption, it would seem unreasonable to attribute chronic poverty to sin (Gen. Rab. 20: 9). Palestinian amoraic literature also distinguishes the chronically poor from the formerly wealthy poor in that the former have what we might term, following Arthur A. Cohen, a “supernatural vocation” (Cohen 1962, p. 6). Giving alms to them is clearly described as earning a reward for the donor, notably the redemptive reward of forgiveness of sin or rescue from an untimely or unnatural death, or from a bad afterlife. While there is no inherent reason that alms to the formerly wealthy poor cannot be redemptive, they are not described as such. The formerly wealthy poor have no “supernatural


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vocation” (Gray 2011). A story in tractate Shabbat of the Palestinian Talmud to which we have previously referred is a parade example of the poor’s supernatural vocation: a poor man asks for food and then blesses the two students of R. Haninah who feed him, asking that God preserve their lives as they have preserved his. The result is that the students survive an untimely death they were otherwise fated to suffer. The poor man thus becomes the means through which the students are able to perform a commandment that saves their lives and his prayer on their behalf is likely the key to their rescue from that fate. Accordingly, R. Yehoshua teaches that a poor person does more for a householder than the latter does for him—presumably because by accepting the householder’s tzedakah (charity) the householder will be divinely rewarded (Lev. Rab. 34: 8). R. Ze’ira teaches that Jews’ quotidian speech is Torah: the poor say “z’khi bi” (“gain merit through me”), “izdakhei bi” (“be merited through me”), or “z’khi garmakh bi” (“gain merit for yourself through me”), all of which are variations on the request “Give me alms” (Lev. Rab. 34: 7). The “merit” which the poor person invites the giver to receive is the divine reward of a redemptive benefit of forgiveness for sin. While in their “natural” aspect the poor have little or no social status, in their supernatural aspect they play a pivotal social role in providing a service to the non‐poor that the latter require but presumably cannot provide for themselves. The theological significance of the “supernatural” poor in Palestinian literature also provides us with a wider ideational context in which to place other traditions that stress the poor’s religious dignity and God’s keen interest in them (e.g., Lev. Rab. 3: 1, 3: 5, 31: 4; Pesiq. Rab Kah. 10: 10; y. Ber. 9: 1, 13b). Different threads of the poor’s theological significance (or not) must be carefully disentangled in the Babylonian Talmud. The Babylonian Talmud is markedly ambivalent about redemptive almsgiving, and this ambivalence is one factor that undermines any sense in that Talmud of the poor’s “supernatural vocation.” This ambivalence is vividly on display in the fictitious dialogue between R. Akiva and a scripturally knowledgeable, combative Roman general named Turnus Rufus. At the end of their debate R. Akiva retreats from his initially robust presentation of redemptive almsgiving to the position (based on Isaiah 58: 7) that supporting the poor should be done “now” (as he puts it) with no explicit focus on reward. R. Akiva does not repudiate his earlier embrace of redemptive almsgiving, but nor does he forcefully reassert it (b. B. Bat. 10a). The Babylonian Talmud presents redemptive almsgiving mostly as a Palestinian notion. Only three Babylonian rabbis teach redemptive almsgiving and in each case there is reason to doubt that the teaching represents an authentic Babylonian perspective (Gray 2011). Although the Babylonian Talmud is ambivalent about the idea that giving charity results in the forgiveness of sin, or rescue from an unusual or untimely death or from Gehinnom, it does acknowledge that giving charity results in divine reward—provided the recipients are “mehuganin” (“fit,” or truly poor) (b. B. Qam. 16b; b. B. Bat. 9b). The nature of that reward is unspecified and the portrayal of the poor’s role in securing that reward for the giver is vague and even flat (as compared with Palestinian literature): they must be “fit,” but there are no warm descriptions of their supernatural importance to their donors such as we find in Palestinian rabbinic literature.

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Rabbis, Tzedakah (Charity), and the Poor There is a scholarly consensus that Palestinian compilations show that amoraic rabbis— and not tannaitic rabbis—were active in communal charitable collection and distribution (Gardner 2015; Gray 2011; Wilfand 2014). Evidence abounds: R. Yaakov b. Idi and R. Yitzhak b. Nahman are described as parnasim (communal officials with some social welfare responsibility) while R. Haggai and R. Yose appoint other, unnamed people as parnasim (y. Pe’ah 8: 9, 21a–b). Palestinian amoraim such as R. Imi and R. Helbo, and R. Hinena b. Papa, are sometimes described as engaging in such work even if not explicitly labeled parnasim (y. Meg. 3: 2, 74a). Palestinian portrayals of the poor and of rabbinic charitable activity are interrelated. Positive portrayals of the poor’s demeanor and supernatural vocation can motivate potential donors to give alms. To the extent that Palestinian amoraic literature highlights how amoraim are integral to charitable collection and distribution, the rabbinic case is made both internally and externally for their involvement in this broader social role—which also, not incidentally, has the potential to help the rabbis extend their religious reach beyond their own study‐circles (Gray 2011, pp. 157–158; Gardner 2015, p. 187). The biblical patriarch Abraham is pressed into service to illustrate this point (Gen. Rab. 49: 4). God describes Abraham in the Bible as doing what is just (tzedakah) and right (mishpat), and Genesis Rabbah probes why “tzedakah” precedes “mishpat” in the verse. The answer is that Abraham would feed all travelers and would invite them after the meal to bless God using the quasi‐rabbinic formula “Blessed be the God of the world of whose [bounty] we have eaten.” If the traveler accepted his invitation to bless God, Abraham would not ask for payment. Thus, the meal of a traveler who chose to bless would be “tzedakah” (charity), while that of one who did not bless would be billed to him, as Abraham was legally entitled to do (“mishpat”). Abraham is thus portrayed as using the (charitable) provision of food as a way to spread his “Torah,” which is an interesting glimpse of what Palestinian rabbis may have thought involvement in charitable collection and distribution could do for them. Negative portrayals of the poor’s behavior may also incentivize potential donors. To the extent that the poor are portrayed as behaving badly, an implicit yet pointed case is made for giving alms through a rabbinically supervised communal modality. The donors get the religious benefits of giving and the rabbis absorb the blow of “bad” behavior. In sum, the poor are a means through which the rabbis can construct themselves as a socially consequential group, mediating between the poor and others. This mediation includes the socio‐theological role of theologically “explaining” the poor and givers of alms to each other, a task that casts the rabbis in the role of creators and maintainers of social peace. The evidence of the Babylonian Talmud points even more decisively in this direction: charity is to be given to a communal fund that is collected, administered, and distributed by a rabbi. The Babylonian Talmud’s multiply‐attested construction of Babylonia as a place of pervasive poverty is a rhetorical move that works to bolster the rabbi’s role as a communal charity collector/distributor: to the extent that Babylonia is a poor place, there is a need for a communal charity role and for the rabbi who fills it. Rav Huna, Rav Yosef, Rava, and Rav Papa are among the rabbinic tradents focused on the poverty of Babylonia. The first three rabbis are portrayed elsewhere in the Babylonian Talmud as


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communal charity collectors and distributors, while Rav Papa is associated in at least two other places with interpretations of mishnayot of Pe’ah (the mishnaic tractate dealing with leaving the corners of the fields for the poor and tzedakah more generally) (b. B. Bat. 9a; b. Ned. 6b). Rav Huna declares that the law is like the view of “others,” who propose that the short prayer that must be recited in a dangerous place must include reference to Israel’s great material needs (b. Ber. 29b). Rav Aha breih de‐Rava echoes this prayer in teaching that the High Priest’s short petition in the outer temple precinct (m. Yoma 5:1) includes the plea that Israel not have to depend only upon itself for sustenance, meaning that the Israelite poor should not have to rely solely for their support upon their better‐endowed Israelite compatriots (b. Yoma 53b). Rav Yosef and Abaye are associated with the “sara d’aniyuta,” the “prince” (or “angel”) of poverty (b. Pesah. 111b; b. Hul. 105b). Rava is associated with the view that vows to give tzedakah (charity), unlike other vows, must be fulfilled immediately because the poor are actively present (b. Ros. Has. 6a). Although recognizing Rav Huna’s generous practice of opening his door at mealtimes and inviting any who need to eat, Rava opines that this cannot be done in Mehoza because of the number of needy troops stationed there (b. Ta’an. 20b– 21a). As already noted, Rav Papa quotes a popular saying that if one hears that one’s friend has become wealthy, one should not believe it (b. Git. 30b). Becoming wealthy is understood to be unexpected and uncommon. Finally, the Babylonian Talmud quotes a lengthy allegedly tannaitic source according to which ten measures of poverty came down from heaven, nine of which were taken by Babylonia alone (b. Qidd. 49b). If poverty is (allegedly) ubiquitous in Babylonia, if interactions with the poor (except perhaps for poor laborers) are dangerous and hence to be avoided, if the poor lack a supernatural vocation, and if one receives no divine reward for giving to “unfit” people (and how might one identify them?), then the only way to give safely and with undoubted religious efficacy is to give charity via a communal fund controlled by a rabbi. Indeed, the Babylonian Talmud stresses the role of the authoritative (even authoritarian) rabbi in controlling the communal collection and distribution of charity. Rav Huna decreed a fast and “imposed” (the verb root “r‐m‐h”) charity on all those physically present in his town, including the visiting Rav Hana bar Hanilai and the latter’s townspeople (b. Meg. 27a–b). When Rav Hana asked for their assessed charity back so that it could be distributed in their own town Rav Huna refused on both legal and practical grounds. The distinctive Babylonian terminology in the story is significant. Rav Huna autocratically “imposes” (r‐m‐h) charity; he does not oversee a “collection” (the verb root p‐s‐k) as sages do in Palestinian sources. Rabbah is likewise later said to have “imposed” charity on the orphans of the house of Bar Meryon, despite an earlier text’s disallowance of such an imposition, and Abaye similarly observes that Rabbah carried one charity purse and imposed the condition on the townspeople that he would give to whatever poor person—local or not—he deemed deserving (b. B. Bat. 8a, 9a). Rav Ashi later comments that (unlike Rabbah) he did not even need to place a condition on the communal charity pouch, for “whoever comes [to give money to the communal fund], comes with my knowledge, and I give to the one I wish to” (b. B. Bat. 9a). Rav Yosef is represented as being in charge of the charity pouch in Pumbedita (b. B. Qam. 93a). The Sasanian King Mother Ifra Hormiz sends him a pouch of dinars with the instruction that they are to be used for a mitzvah rabbah; clearly the Sasanian royal mother is portrayed as viewing Rav Yosef as a recognized Jewish charity collector/distributor

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(b. B. Bat. 8a‐b). Rav Yosef also refers to himself as “the hand of the poor” in compelling a transfer of a small amount of money to the poor against the wishes of a reluctant “donor” (b. B. Qam. 36b). Rava is said to have “compelled” (k‐p‐h) Rav Natan bar Ami and taken the large sum of 400 zuz from him for charity (b. B. Bat. 8b). No Palestinian amora is described as “compelling” another to give charity or as “imposing” a charity obligation on others. Only Ravina’s portrayal is interestingly devoid of references to compulsion. The Babylonian Talmud’s anonymous editorial voice extols the virtues of giving charity through such a rabbinically administered communal fund in tractate Baba Batra (10a–b), even averring unambiguously that such giving has redemptive significance, saving the giver from an “unusual death.” R. Hiyya bar Abba said: “R. Yohanan juxtaposed [two verses]. It is written (Prov. 11: 4) Wealth is of no avail on the day of wrath, but righteousness saves from death (Prov. 11: 4) and it is written (Prov. 10: 2) Ill‐gotten wealth is of no avail, but righteousness saves from death. Why are there two [mentions of] ‘righteousness’ [tzedakah]? One saves him from an unusual death and one saves him from the judgment of Gehinnom.” And which saves him from the judgment of Gehinnom? That as to which wrath is written …. And which is it that saves him from an unusual death? If he gives without knowing to whom he gives, if he takes without knowing from whom he takes. Giving without knowing to whom one gives—this excludes the case of Mar Ukba. Taking without knowing from whom one takes—this excludes the case of R. Abba. And so what should he do? Give to the tzedakah pouch (arneki shel tzedakah) … when there is appointed over it one like R. Hananya ben Teradyon.

Although this passage opens with the Palestinians R. Hiyya bar Abba and R. Yohanan, the fingerprints of the Babylonian Talmud’s anonymous editorial voice (which alone has a view that ranges beyond this passage and this tractate) are readily seen. The references to “Mar Ukba” and “R. Abba” are to stories about these sages found in this very order in tractate Ketubot (67b), and the expression rendered here as “tzedakah pouch” (“arneki shel tzedakah”) is found only in the Babylonian Talmud. Note the crucial distinction in outlook between the Palestinian and Babylonian perspectives: the Palestinian Talmud’s students earn a reprieve from an unusual death through their personal encounter with a prayerful poor man, while the Babylonian Talmud’s donor earns such a reprieve by giving anonymously to a communal fund administered by a reputable rabbi. There is also another layer here of rabbinic self‐fashioning. The Babylonian Talmud’s “tzedakah (charity) pouch” from which the rabbis make distributions of anonymous donations is the Babylonian Talmud’s reworking of Mishnah and Tosefta Sheqalim’s “hall of secrets” (m. Sheqal. 5: 6; t. Sheqal. 2: 16). “Fearers of sin” would contribute to this “hall” anonymously, and the “well‐born poor” (aniyyim b’nei tovim) would take from it anonymously. Mishnah Sheqalim locates the “hall of secrets” exclusively in the Jerusalem Temple, while the Tosefta locates one in every town. The Babylonian Talmud takes the next step of reimagining the Tosefta’s local “halls of secrets” as the rabbinically administered Babylonian “arneki shel tzedakah” (“charity pouch”). People contribute and the rabbi makes distributions. Donors do not know to whom their money goes, and the poor do not know from whom their support comes. The Babylonian rabbinic charity ­collectors/ distributors and their fund thus ultimately stand in the place of the Jerusalem Temple. Just as sacrificing in the Temple earned worshippers forgiveness of sin, giving to the r­ abbinically administered charitable fund (the “hall of secrets”) earns the donor a redemptive reward.


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Conclusion Chronic poverty was a fact of life in late antiquity, a fact amply attested as well in Palestinian amoraic compilations and the Babylonian Talmud. However, the ubiquitous mentions of the poor and poverty in the rabbinic compilations should not be assumed to be neutral, transparent reflections of reality. Not unlike other religious elites of late antiquity (notably Christian), Palestinian and Babylonian amoraic rabbis craft complex portrayals of the poor that play a role in a larger project of elite self‐fashioning. Palestinian rabbis portray the poor as being of special concern to God, perhaps even as having a “supernatural vocation” to redeem the non‐poor, but also as real people suffering real privations, whose anger and demeanor may be off‐putting to potential donors. Babylonian rabbis tend to portray interactions with the non‐working poor as fraught with a potential for danger, while the working poor earn their sympathy. Palestinian rabbis stress that poverty is not an immutable social status; the Babylonian Talmud does not disagree, but sees it as a “sticky” identity, one that is particularly difficult to escape. This latter distinction dovetails with the Babylonian Talmud’s literary tendency to portray the rich and poor as living parallel, but distinct lives; the rich and poor do similar things, but quite differently. Palestinian and Babylonian amoraic rabbis also portray themselves as a group apart, assimilable neither to the poor nor the non‐poor. These constructions of poverty, the poor, and the amoraic rabbis allow the latter to fashion for themselves a consequential social and religious role: that of mediators between the poor, themselves, and others—including God.

REFERENCES Cohen, Arthur A. (1962). The Natural and the Supernatural Jew. New York: Pantheon. Fraade, Steven D. (2011). Local Jewish leadership in Roman Palestine: The case of the Parnas in early rabbinic sources in light of extra‐rabbinic evidence. In: Legal Fictions: Studies of Law and Narrative in the Discursive Worlds of Ancient Jewish Sectarians and Sages (ed. Steven Fraade), 555–576. Leiden: Brill. Gardner, Gregg E. (2015). The Origins of Organized Charity in Rabbinic Judaism. New York: Cambridge University Press. Gray, Alyssa M. (2011). Redemptive almsgiving and the rabbis of Late Antiquity. Jewish Studies Quarterly 18 (2): 144–184. Hamel, Gildas (2010). Poverty and charity. In: The Oxford Handbook of Daily Life in Roman Palestine, edited by Catherine Hezser, 308–324. New York: Oxford University Press. Hamel, Gildas (1990). Poverty and Charity in Roman Palestine. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Novick, Tzvi (2014). Poverty and halakhic agency: gleanings from the literature of ­rabbinic Palestine. Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy 22: 25–43. Wilfand, Yael (2014). Poverty, Charity and the Image of the Poor in Rabbinic Texts from the Land of Israel. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Phoenix Press.


Diaspora and Center Joshua Ezra Burns

Introduction Sometime during the middle of the third century ce, members of a Roman religious order known as the Augustales erected a monument in the Italian port city of Ostia. Its surviving Latin inscription indicates its dedication to the memory of the father of a locally famous pantomime actor named Marcus Aurelius Pylades from Scythopolis, or Beit She’an, in the province of Judaea. Pylades’ father Iuda, or Judah, is recognized as a decurion, a civic official who served in his home town and in the nearby cities of Ascalon and Damascus. The sponsors of the monument apparently did not know Judah. They donated it in view of the Ostian public’s esteem for the man’s son (Noy 1993, pp. 28–30 [no. 15]). Why that task fell to an assembly of pagan priests is not stated, nor is the nature of their association with the actor. What is reasonably certain, however, is that Pylades was an immigrant and a Jew proud of his lineage, proud enough to advertise it to his non‐Jewish friends and neighbors. Clearly, their awareness of his foreign roots did little to diminish his popularity (see also Lander, Chapter 27). If this vignette suggests an ancient forerunner of The Jazz Singer, the analogy is fitting. Although we cannot know what motivated Pylades to leave his father’s house, his journey to the Ostian stage anticipates the stories of generations of Jews since who have sought their fortunes among the Gentiles. Like so many of them, Pylades did not forget where he came from. He did not lack for opportunities to practice his Jewish identity in his adopted home. Just a few hours’ journey from Rome, Ostia was a site of international trade and home to a cosmopolitan culture. It also was home to a large and venerable Jewish community. The remains of their stately synagogue still stand amid

A Companion to Late Ancient Jews and Judaism: Third Century bce to Seventh Century ce, First Edition. Edited by Naomi Koltun-Fromm and Gwynn Kessler. © 2020 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published 2020 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


Joshua Ezra Burns

Figure 14.1  Torah ark in the Ostia synagogue. Photo: Joshua Ezra Burns

the ancient city’s ruins (Levine 2005, pp. 273–278) (see Figure 14.1). There, one imagines, Pylades found fellowship with his fellow Jews, who, judging by the epigraphical record, included other transplants from overseas. He could wear one mask among the Romans and another among the Jews, excelling at both roles like the consummate performer he was. One wonders, of course, how representative of the Jewish experience of his age was that of Pylades. Not every Jew compelled to act as a Greek or a Roman possessed his dramatic dexterity. Yet his example is telling. Ancient Jews who wished to maintain the customs of their ancestors on foreign soil had to perform multiple personas as a matter of routine. The objective of this essay is to provide the reader with glimpses into the minds of those unheralded amateur actors. The principal question I seek to address is how Jews who lived outside the Land of Israel understood their relationships with that land and its people. I also shall consider how those who lived in the Land of Israel related to those who lived abroad. I thereby aim to show that Jews across the wide geographical and cultural expanses of the classical world maintained certain common sensibilities regarding their national polity and the country of its birth. Those sensibilities conditioned certain Jews to act in ways demonstrative of their commitments to their fellow Jews regardless of where they happened to live, cultivating associations that could serve the interests of the Jewish body politic well at times and poorly at others. By necessity, my account will be impressionistic.

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Our record of evidence attesting to Jewish life and thought between the third century bce and the seventh century ce, what I am calling here the “classical age,” is far from complete. Reliable literary information pertaining to the second to seventh centuries ce Diaspora is especially scarce. Surviving Jewish texts of that era are largely restricted to rabbinic writings concerned with the affairs of a relatively small number of devout sages and disciples who resided in the Land of Israel and Babylonia. What little the authors of those texts had to say about Diaspora Jewry beyond Babylonia is of questionable historical value. The preservation by early Christian scholars of writings by the first century ce Jewish authors Philo of Alexandria and Flavius Josephus means that the earlier period is better documented than most. Others are known from the aforementioned rabbinic allusions, scattered archaeological remains, and incidental remarks by non‐Jewish authors of various dispositions toward the Jews (Goodman 1994). That fragmentary record is not ideally suited to a subject as vast and as complicated as the one I aim to address. However, as it is the only record available, I shall try to do it justice (see also Kraemer, Chapter 2, Stern, Chapter 7, and Baker, Chapter 8). Before proceeding, a few words on my language are in order. My reference to the “center” of this essay’s title as “the Land of Israel” mirrors the term Eretz Yisra’el, which is the toponym most commonly used in the Hebrew Scriptures and in subsequent rabbinic writings to refer to the region today roughly comprising the State of Israel and the Palestinian territories (e.g., Ezek. 47: 13–20; Sifre Deut. 51). That region had other names in antiquity. Jews and non‐Jews writing in Greek and Latin typically called it Judaea, a derivative of the Hebrew Yehudah, or Judah. Some non‐ Jews, however, called it Palestine, an archaic Greek name evidently connected to the people known in the Hebrew Scriptures as the Philistines. Judaea was the region’s official name from the beginning of the Hellenistic age until 135 ce, when it was renamed Palestine for reasons I shall discuss. Both Judaea and Palestine, however, persisted in common use for centuries thereafter. Sorting out who knew the region by which name and when is not a task I wish to undertake here. For the sake of consistency, therefore, I shall evoke the idiom of the ancient Hebrew texts in which the traditional Jewish distinction between Diaspora and center found its earliest and most enduring expressions. I also should explain my use of the terms “Jew” and “Jewish.” Although I am not insensitive to the rationale for distinguishing between the “Judaean” and “Jew” when writing about ancient history, I find that distinction unsuited to the purpose of this essay. As I shall argue, the sense of common cause that united Jews in the Land of Israel with their fellow Jews in the Diaspora was predicated on both their ethnic and religious sensibilities in a manner I find commensurate with the logic of the multivalent cultural system we now know as Judaism (Burns 2017). That is not to say that to be a Jew in antiquity meant exactly what it means to be a Jew today. Judaism has evolved over the past two thousand years and so have its attendant discourses on identity. Nevertheless, to distinguish one ancient population as Jews and another as Judaeans (or, for that matter, Judahites) on the basis of perceived shades of difference in how they practiced their identities would incur the risk of obscuring the very commonalities I wish to illustrate. I therefore shall refer to my subjects as Jews and Jewish in spite of whatever semantic liabilities my choice of language may incur.


Joshua Ezra Burns

Home and Away The Land of Israel was a major focus of Jewish thought in antiquity. According to the Torah, the Jews descended from the nation of Israel, a people today known as the Israelites. Although the Israelites were only one of several peoples indigenous to their land, Jews believed that their God had given it to them by virtue of his covenantal promises to their ancestor Abraham (Gen. 15: 18–21, 17: 8). Early Jewish interpreters debated the precise geographical coordinates of Israel’s territory. Generally speaking, however, they understood it to comprise at least the area often described in their scriptures as ranging from Dan in the north of the country to Beersheba in its south (Ben‐Eliyahu 2012). To their minds, that territory was their people’s historic homeland and their everlasting inheritance. That Jews represented a considerable share of its population for the duration of the classical age reinforced that conviction. So much for the center. The term Diaspora derives from the Greek verb diaspeirō, or “disperse.” The nominal form diaspora is used to denote the dispersion of Israel in the books of the Septuagint, the ancient translations of the Hebrew Scriptures produced by and for Greek‐speaking Jews (for more about the Seputagint, see Yadin‐Israel, Chapter 4). For instance, the Greek text of Deuteronomy depicts Moses foretelling a day when Israel, overtaken by sin, would “be in dispersion among all the kingdoms of the earth” (LXX Deut. 28: 25). In that context, the dispersion alludes to the effects of the conquest of the Kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians in 722 bce and of the Kingdom of Judah by the Babylonians in 597 bce. Those conquests resulted in the expulsions of large numbers of Israelites and Jews from their homeland. The Babylonian conquest elicited a crisis of tremendous proportions for the people of Judah. Some, such as the prophet Ezekiel, were forcibly resettled in Mesopotamia while others, such as the prophet Jeremiah, sought refuge in Egypt. In those terrifying displacements, vividly commemorated in the Hebrew Scriptures, the condition of Diaspora was born. Following the Persian conquest of Babylon in 539 bce, the descendants of those Jewish exiles were permitted to return to their homeland. Many did, and proceeded to rebuild Jerusalem, its Temple, and its traditional sacrificial cult. However, many others opted to remain where their families had since planted roots. In time, the restored Jewish community of the Land of Israel flourished alongside what its people called the golah, or the community of the exile. It was an exile in name only, for the Jews who remained were not compelled to remain in exile and, moreover, they often flourished under the benevolent rule of the Persian crown. The prophet Joel reports that his people sometimes were kidnapped and sold as slaves to the Greeks (Joel 4: 6). Such incidents presumably were rare, although the earliest surviving evidence of Jewish life in Greece is indeed an inscription left by a freed slave (Noy, Panayotov, and Bloedhorn 2004, pp. 177–180 [no. Ach45]). For the most part, however, the Persians protected their Jewish subjects, allowing them to profess their ancestral beliefs and to practice their ancestral rites wherever and however they chose. Life in the Diaspora was good. Consequently, relocating to the Land of Israel was not something many foreign‐born Jews felt compelled to do. The conquest of the Near East by Alexander of Macedon in 333 bce at first brought little change to the condition of the Jews. In time, however, territorial struggles between Alexander’s successors divided the Jewish population between competing Greek

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­ onarchies. Jews were implicated in the decades‐long wars between the Seleucid kings of m Asia Minor, Syria, Mesopotamia, and Persia and the Ptolemaic kings of Egypt and North Africa (Bickerman 1988, pp. 81–100). Their movements within and between those regions increased, sometimes against their wills. Meanwhile, enterprising Jews from the Hellenized east migrated to Greece and, from there, to the Greek colonies of southern Europe. By the time Rome dismantled the last of the Greek kingdoms in 31 bce, small Jewish settlements could be found in cities and towns throughout the Mediterranean region to the west of the Land of Israel and throughout Mesopotamia and Persia to its east (see Kraemer, Chapter 2 and Ahuvia, Chapter 3). The ancestral homeland of the Jews was thus not only the focal point of their national cult but also the geographical center of a people truly dispersed among the nations of the world. Though their geographical distribution was extensive, Jews were not restricted by the spaces between them. They were mobile. Jews traveled for business and for pleasure. Individuals and families migrated between countries for a variety of reasons (Hezser 2011). Jerusalem was a magnet for Jews while the Second Temple stood, attracting visitors from Diaspora locales near and far during its annual pilgrimage festivals. They exchanged books, letters, and other artefacts across wide distances (Doering 2012). Such exchanges enabled Jews across the map of the classical world to cultivate a common sense of ethnic and religious identity or, in contemporary terms, a sense of “Judaism,” that is, a common cultural paradigm at once complementing and transcending the particularities of their individual countries of residence. Yet despite their interconnectedness, many continued to think of the Diaspora as a form of exile. That metaphor often was invoked by Jews in the Land of Israel who saw their fellow Jews abroad as victims of the deuteronomic curse. They longed for the day when God would forgive his people for their past trespasses and deliver them from their dispersion (Deut. 30: 3–4). Diaspora Jews occasionally echoed that eschatological hope, conceding that their situation as the inevitable fulfillment of God’s will. Some optimistic individuals, however, preferred to see it as a sign of their people’s perseverance despite their past trials (Gafni 1997, pp. 19–40). Others opted for less conflicted metaphors. Philo, for example, while not discarding the notion of Diaspora as exile, evoked the settlement strategies of the Greeks and Romans in accounting Jerusalem as the metropolis, or mother city, of the Jews and their foreign outposts as her colonies (e.g., Flaccus 46; Embassy 281–282; Pearce 2004). Of those, however, whose thoughts on the matter we know, ancient Jews invariably acknowledged that the condition of Diaspora was not the ideal state in which their nation should have been. Their efforts to rationalize it speak to a shared sense that the world they knew was not the world they aspired to accommodate.

The Temple Trade The Second Temple of Jerusalem stood from roughly 516 bce to 70 ce. Over that span of time, it grew from a small local shrine into a sprawling sacred campus that functioned both as the operational center of a cult with devotees across the civilized world and the economic engine of its region. Naturally, the performance of the Temple’s daily sacrificial


Joshua Ezra Burns

and liturgical rites fell to the priests and other cultic functionaries who lived in and around Jerusalem. However, those dedicated servants of God were supported by their fellow Jews both near and far. As noted, the annual pilgrimage festivals mandated in the Torah, namely Pesaḥ (Passover), Shavu’ot (Pentecost), and Sukkot (Tabernacles), brought large numbers of Diaspora Jews to Jerusalem to worship at the Temple (Deut. 16.1–17; Hezser 2011, pp. 365–88). Josephus attests to the multitudes of foreign visitors who descended upon the city on those occasions (Ant. 17.26, 214; J.W. 6.421, 428; cf. Ant. 4.203–204), while Philo wrote affectionately of his own journey to his people’s “ancestral Temple” (Prov. 2.64; cf. Spec. Laws 1.68–69). Many more Jews sent monies for the procurement of sacrificial offerings and the general upkeep of the Temple’s facilities. That practice is likely to be attributed to the scriptural ordinance obliging the Israelites to pay a yearly half‐shekel census tax to the Tabernacle (Exod. 30: 11–16), but the so‐called temple tax was not actually a tax in that it was not compulsory. It was, rather, a voluntary contribution undertaken by those Jews willing and able to patronize their national cult from afar for lack of opportunity to do so in person (Sanders 1990, pp. 283–308). Philo (Spec. Laws 1.76–78; Embassy 216) and Josephus (Ant. 14.110–113, 18.310–313) wrote proudly of their people’s charitable habits. Yet what was a point of pride to the Jews was a source of disgrace to some of their dissenters. For example, the first century bce Roman intellectual Cicero spoke snidely of the Jewish riches lavished upon Jerusalem, a city he deemed unworthy of such honor in view of its recent subjugation by Rome (Flaccus 28.66–69). Diaspora Jews occasionally found themselves implicated in the affairs of the Temple and its personnel. In 175 bce, the Jewish high priest Onias III was forcibly removed from his post by the Seleucid king Antiochus IV. The deposed priest traveled to Antioch, the Seleucid capital, to petition the king for his reappointment. While there, he reportedly found refuge among the Jews of the nearby town of Daphne (2 Macc. 4:33). Years later, his son Onias IV led a small contingent of followers to Egypt, where, with the permission of the Ptolemaic king Ptolemy VI, he founded an autonomous Jewish temple in the city of Leontopolis (Ant. 13.62–73; Modrzejewski 1995, pp. 121–33). Although the remote shrine never attracted much interest among the country’s native Jews, its promotion by Egypt’s leaders as an alternative pilgrimage site within their dominion elicited competition between its founder and the upstart Hasmonean priests who had wrested control of the Jerusalem Temple from the Seleucids. The Septuagint appears to preserve traces of that rivalry. For example, the Greek version of Esther ends with a note indicating that it was dispatched from Jerusalem to Egypt to promote the festival of Purim among a local Jewish population not yet sold on the recent Persian import (LXX Esther 11: 1). 2 Maccabees includes two prefatory letters indicating that the book was sent to Egypt to promote the even newer festival of Hanukkah, which had been enacted by the Hasmoneans to commemorate their rededication of the Jerusalem shrine (2 Macc. 1: 1–2: 16). These literary remains suggest that the Hasmoneans, though not legitimate heirs of the Temple’s cultic governance, thought it their right to dictate the beliefs and practices of all their people (Doering 2012, pp. 165–167). The Alexandrian Jews who preserved these documents were under no formal obligation to do as the Hasmoneans bid them. That they chose to do so regardless is perhaps telling of their willingness to follow the lead of whoever happened to be in charge in Jerusalem. A similar sense of reverence suffuses the Letter

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of Aristeas, an imaginative literary account of the origins of the Septuagint. The book’s unknown author tells of an improbable Ptolemaic delegation dispatched to Jerusalem to escort a team of 72 Jewish scholars to Egypt so that they might translate the Torah into Greek. His account of the trip, which appears to draw upon the author’s own pilgrimage journey, leads the reader to conclude that the sacred books used in his community bore the imprimatur of the Jewish high priest, said to have appointed the translators (Rajak 2009, pp. 51–55). Evidently, the Egyptian Jews who popularized the book wished to believe that their scriptures were no less authoritative than the Hebrew versions read in the Land of Israel. The Hasmoneans were perhaps presumptuous, albeit no less sensible, to assume that their fellow Jews in Egypt would practice the same deference with respect to their festival calendar (see also Kattan Gribetz, Chapter 28).

Life During Wartime Life in the ancient Diaspora had its ups and downs. On the one hand, Jews had little trouble adapting to their foreign surroundings. Despite maintaining certain customs and sensibilities that set them apart from their neighbors, Jews living among the Greeks and Romans generally sought to assimilate the cultural values of their surroundings to their own to the extent they could without violating their ancestral mores (Schwartz 2010). On the other hand, their devotion to a distant cult and its seemingly strange ritual prescriptions provided their critics plenty with which to malign Jews as alien creatures fundamentally incapable of social integration. For the most part, Diaspora Jews themselves wished to believe that there was no essential conflict between being “Jewish” and being “Greek” or “Roman,” but the appearance of their divided national loyalties cast an ever‐present shadow of suspicion over their lives (Gruen 2002, pp. 232–252). That suspicion occasionally gave way to open hostility. The first known major incident of that order was an infamous disturbance in Alexandria in the year 38 ce. Prior to the event, the city’s Jews had petitioned the governing Romans to enroll (the Jews) as Alexandrian citizens, a status normally granted to ethnic Greeks but denied to ethnic Egyptians. The Jews, until then collectively recognized by the Romans as Egyptians, wished to be recognized as Greeks, but neither the Greeks nor the Egyptians wished the Jews to be counted among their national polities. According to Philo, an eyewitness to the affair, a lavish public procession for the visiting king Agrippa I, the client Judaean king, sparked a riot in the city’s Jewish quarter. Incited by Greeks and enabled by the Romans, the violence quickly spread to the Egyptian countryside. Many Jews lost their lives. Others lost their synagogues, homes, and businesses (Flaccus; Gambetti 2009). Once the conflict subsided, Philo and other local Jewish dignitaries journeyed to Rome to petition the emperor Gaius to discipline the agitators. They were concerned that similar outbursts would happen elsewhere should those hostile toward their nation suppose they could torment Jews with impunity (Embassy; cf. Flaccus 45). The fears of Philo and his colleagues were realized during the Jewish revolt of 66–70 ce. As Jews in the Land of Israel took up arms against the Romans, others in adjacent regions were made to suffer the consequences. According to Josephus, non‐Jewish residents of  Syria and Roman Arabia who watched Rome’s legions march through their towns


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en‐route to the theater of war seized upon their defenseless Jewish neighbors (J.W. 2.457– 486, 559–561; Kasher 1990, pp. 268–287). The attacks spread as far north as Damascus and Antioch, cities whose Jewish communities were in no way involved in the distant uprising. In some places, sympathetic non‐Jews helped repel the aggressors. In others, the Jews found no aid. Josephus further tells of a Greek assault on an assembly of Jews in Alexandria, far from the battlefront. The Roman authorities, he claims, though present at the attack, did nothing to stop it (J.W. 2.487–498). Many innocents in the Diaspora were thus drawn into the conflict simply because they were Jews. The ultimate victory of the Romans further impacted Jews throughout the empire. Naturally, the rebels and their supporters bore the brunt of the suffering, but the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple dealt a psychological blow to all Jews who had maintained the belief that its cultic order was absolutely essential to the maintenance of their nation’s covenant with God. The loss of that center presumably affected Jews in the Diaspora just as it did their kin in the Land of Israel. The Jews of Rome furthermore had to witness the victorious general Titus celebrate a triumphal procession with his father, the emperor Vespasian, and their troops parading the spoils of the Temple as well as the hordes of Jewish prisoners of war through their capital. After Titus ascended to the throne in 79 ce, he erected a colossal arch in the Roman Forum commemorating his triumph, a monument that would stand for centuries as a testament to the Jews’ national catastrophe (see Figure 7.02). Generations of Jews throughout the empire were to be reminded of their humiliation by successive issues of coins, the mass media of the ancient world, struck with the legend iudaea capta—“Judaea has been captured” (see Figure 28.2)—alongside an image of a soldier and his forlorn prisoner (see also Klawans, Chapter  12 and Kattan Gribetz, Chapter 28). However, perhaps the most injurious punishment was the fiscus iudaicus, the Jewish tax. Commandeering the notorious and now nullified temple “tax,” Vespasian imposed a compulsory tribute on all Jews in the Roman Empire to be paid on an annual basis in perpetuity (Jos., J.W. 7.218). The penalty was devastating to those unable to afford the expenses formerly assumed only by their more affluent fellow Jews. Moreover, the revenues the Jewish tax stood to generate compelled the Roman authorities to pursue its collection with vigilance. Simply to be known as a Jew became a financial liability. The imperial biographer Suetonius tells of an incident in which an elderly man suspected of dodging his obligation was forced to submit to a public inspection of his genitals in order to determine whether he was circumcised (Domitian 12.2). The climate of fear and resentment provoked by the Jewish tax persisted for some time. Following a brief relaxation of its collection during the reign of the emperor Nerva, it was reinstituted by his more fiscally minded successor Trajan. That decision was likely one of the catalysts of the poorly documented confrontations pitting bands of renegade Jews against their Roman overseers that broke out simultaneously in Mesopotamia, Cyrenaica, Egypt, and Cyprus during Trajan’s reign, incidents collectively known as the Diaspora Revolt of 116–117 ce (Goodman 1992). The second coordinated Jewish revolt against Rome proved just as damaging as the first. Under the leadership of Simon bar Kosiba, better known by the messianic sobriquet Bar Kokhba, insurgents in the Land of Israel engaged Roman forces from 132 to 135 ce in an ill‐starred campaign to save Jerusalem from a plan by the emperor Hadrian to re‐establish the derelict city as a military colony. To our knowledge, the Bar Kokhba rebellion elicited

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no violent reprisals in the Diaspora, but the failure of the uprising impacted Jews far and wide. As the Jewish tax was still in effect, Rome resorted to symbolic penalties. Hadrian stripped the ancestral Jewish homeland of the very name they claimed as their own. Judaea, for most official purposes, became Syria Palaestina, or, more simply, Palestine. The emperor also followed through with his design for Jerusalem, changing its name to Aelia Capitolina in honor of his own family, the Aelians, and the Roman god Jupiter Capitolinus, and barring Jews from living there. Finally, he enacted legislation banning genital mutilation, which, though apparently not enforced, effectively outlawed the quintessential Jewish rite of male circumcision (Mor 2016, pp. 468–485). Once again, therefore, Jews throughout the Roman realm were made to pay for the misdeeds of the guilty few in the Land of Israel.

A New Center Emerges The closure of Jerusalem to Jewish settlement following the Bar Kokhba rebellion and the ensuing influx of Roman military personnel prompted many Jews in its vicinity to move north into the Galilee region. There, in the absence of a temple trade, a new kind of exchange between Diaspora and center took root among the emerging rabbinic sages. Initiated in the wake of the Temple’s destruction, the rabbinic movement was predicated on the design of its proponents to develop a new model of Jewish piety focused on the study of the Torah. Over the following centuries, the ranks of those Jews dedicated to the ways of the sages would grow incrementally. The emergence of the rabbis as influencers of popular opinion and practice was aided by the concurrent emergence of the Patriarchate, an institution of uncertain origins recognized at some point during the third century as the official liaison between the Roman government and its Jewish subjects (Lapin 2012). Operating independently and in tandem, the rabbis and the Patriarchs worked to cultivate ties with their fellow Jews abroad. They thereby attempted to revitalize the relationship between center and Diaspora that had eroded since the fall of the Temple. At first, the sages operated only in the Galilee. However, later rabbinic authors would recall that their predecessors occasionally traveled abroad in search of financial support. Talmudic texts preserve stories of tannaim, that is, the sages of the first and second centuries ce, journeying to nearby Diaspora communities in Syria and Roman Arabia and further afield to Egypt, Asia Minor, and Rome. In addition to raising money, the itinerant scholars occasionally would be asked to weigh in on questions of legal or ritual concern. Their outreach was sustained by the amoraim, the sages of the third through fifth centuries, who at times coordinated with the Patriarchs in their own fundraising efforts on behalf of the general Jewish population of the Land of Israel (Hezser 2011, pp. 241–272). The amoraim found especially receptive audiences beyond the borders of the Roman Empire in the land of Babylonia in central Mesopotamia. Babylonia was the first corner of the Diaspora to get behind the rabbinic movement in force, its people welcoming the sages to their communities and sending their young men to study with them in the Land of Israel (Hezser 2011, pp. 332–352). The resulting flow of people and ideas between the two regions would prove momentous in the following centuries. Although the Patriarchs often supported the sages, their obligations to the general public took priority. Rabbinic texts indicate that sages and their disciples competed for


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­ atriarchal appointments as what they called judges, or, more accurately, religious factop tums for Jewish communities in the Land of Israel and neighboring parts of Syria and Roman Arabia. To more distant Diaspora communities, the Patriarchs sent officials known in Greek as apostoloi, or emissaries, who conveyed news from the homeland, raised money, and authorized the appointment of local synagogue officials (Sivertsev 2002, pp. 204–227). A unique epitaph from the Italian town of Venosa indicates that two emissaries and two rabbis spoke at the funeral of the deceased (Noy 1993, pp. 114–119 [no. 86]). Whether those rabbis were affiliates of the sages is impossible to say. That they traveled, however, in the company of the emissaries suggests that they all belonged to the same patriarchal delegation. Other inscriptions from the Mediterranean Diaspora allude to the Patriarchate more generally, suggesting that its officers developed a formal diplomatic apparatus that commanded some respect among Jews throughout the Roman Empire. A remarkable custom of the Diaspora during the age of the amoraim and the Patriarchs was the burial of foreign Jews in the Land of Israel. Though by no means a universal practice, the custom of transporting the remains of the dead for interment in their homeland is attested in a number of literary and epigraphic sources (Gafni 1997, pp. 79–95). Burial grounds in the port cities of Caesarea and Jaffa have yielded evidence suggesting that bodies shipped from overseas were interred as soon as they reached the country’s shores, a habit likely to be rooted in an old scriptural taboo against defiling the Land of Israel with unattended corpses (cf. Deut. 21: 22–23; Ezek. 39: 14, 16). The local rabbinic sages, though wary of importing agents of defilement into their country, nevertheless believed that those buried there were more fortunate than those buried beyond its borders. Their reasoning, it seems, was that the prophets had foretold a day when the dead would be raised once again to walk the Land of Israel (e.g., Isa. 42: 5; Ezek. 37: 12–14). Hence their concern that individuals not buried there would not be ideally located to capitalize on God’s promise when the appointed time arrived. One surmises that the same eschatological hope motivated those Diaspora Jews who transferred their forebears’ remains to the land of their ancestors. Eternal rest alongside the rich and famous was another draw. The necropolis of the Galilean town of Beit She’arim housed the remains of the Patriarchs, their rabbinic colleagues, and their families. It also attracted a number of foreign Jews. Most of the known Diaspora dead came from Syria, although Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, and Himyar (­modern‐day Yemen) are also represented. Whether they or their families chose Beit She’arim on account of the site’s association with the Patriarchs or the rabbinic sages is unclear. One might just as well infer that its clients were lured by the facility’s grand scale, its architectural splendor, and its lush surroundings (Rajak, 1998). Regardless of the nature of its appeal, the meeting of local and Diaspora sensibilities in evidence at Beit She’arim seems to exemplify to perfection the emergence of the Galilee region as the center of the Jewish world following the wars with Rome (see Figure 14.2).

Exile at Home and Home in Exile In the year 313 ce, the Roman emperor Constantine I enacted a decree legalizing the profession and practice of Christianity throughout his realm. In the decades following Constantine’s edict, the Roman Empire sustained a mass migration of its ruling class toward the royal family’s newly favored cult. Thus, by the end of the fourth century,

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Figure 14.2  A Greek inscription from Beit She’arim marking the remains of a Jewish community leader from the Syrian city of Antioch. Beit Shearim, 17 August 2002. Source Etan Tal. https:// commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:BeitShearimInscr1a.jpg. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Christianity had thoroughly overtaken Rome’s traditional religion as the professed moral foundation of its regime. In time, it overtook the multitude of Rome’s subjects as well. This did not bode well for the Jews. Suppressed for centuries by Rome, the newly authorized religion entertained a centuries‐old resentment toward the Jews born of its conflicted relationship with the Judaism of its founders. Consequently, as the position of the Christian collective in the empire’s social and political hierarchies rose, the position of the Jewish collective fell. The imperial jurists who dictated the rights and restrictions of all Roman subjects took to accepting advice from Christian bishops who harbored deep‐ seated theological prejudices against the Jews and their alleged heresy. Jewish communities in Roman lands from Spain to northern Mesopotamia thus found themselves subjected to a steady stream of legal reforms restricting the practice of their ancestral rites, a privilege with longstanding Roman legal support. Moreover, Christians operating beyond the law had few compunctions about turning those prejudices against their increasingly vulnerable Jewish neighbors. The Jews of the Roman Empire were thereby exposed to the impulses of a non‐Jewish population liable to think and act in ways hostile toward their very existence. The rabbinic sages bore witness to the gradual transformation of the Land of Israel that set in as Christianity began to make significant inroads among its gentile population. Ironically, the spread of the new religion appears to have strengthened their movement as Jews once ambivalent toward their ancestral culture increasingly looked to the sages as steadfast defenders of their increasingly endangered national polity (Lapin 2012, pp. 151–167). Little, however, is known about how their relatives elsewhere faced the challenges of the age


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beyond a few reports in Christian sources of localized violence perpetrated against Jews by religious fanatics. Nevertheless, one must assume that Jews throughout the Roman Empire experienced the change in much the same ways. Laws restricting their civil rights would have affected all Roman Jews equally regardless of where they happened to live. The diminution and eventual elimination of the Patriarchate might have hit those in the Land of Israel particularly hard, but the disappearance of its esteemed envoys would have disheartened their supporters in the Diaspora as well. The archaeological record suggests that distant Jewish communities remained in contact during the trying times of the fourth and fifth centuries. The remains of richly appointed synagogues across the Mediterranean region exhibit architectural and ornamental affinities with one another and with contemporary examples in the Land of Israel (Levine 2005, pp. 304–308). One might therefore deduce that Jewish communal officers continually moving about the Roman world enabled the diffusion of certain elements of ritual design and aesthetic tastes, but the heyday of the Diaspora synagogue would not be for long. The remains of one from the Macedonian town of Stobi tell the sad tale of what happened in numerous locales throughout the Roman realm. Carved on a marble column, a dedicatory inscription by the synagogue’s patron promises a generous bounty to the Patriarch to be paid by the local Jewish community should they choose to modify the building in the future. The column was found buried amid the ruins of a Byzantine‐era church. By the time the Jews abandoned the property, the Patriarchate likely had ceased to exist (Noy, Panayotov, and Bloedhorn 2004, pp. 62–71 [no. Mac1]; Levine 2005, pp. 270–273) (see also Kraemer, Chapter 2). That the rabbinic movement survived the desolation of the western Diaspora is due to its turn to the east. The Christianization of the Roman Empire did not immediately impact those Jews who lived beyond its borders. The sages of the Land of Israel long had maintained contact with their counterparts in Babylonia, a region then held by the Sasanian Empire of Persia. The Sasanians were not Christians. They bore no specific theological prejudices against the Jews. They therefore welcomed the émigrés from the west who came to their land to enroll in the old and established rabbinic academies of Maḥoza, Pumbedita, and Sura. Consequently, as the emperors of Rome and Byzantium made life for their Jewish subjects ever less pleasant during the fifth and sixth centuries, Babylonia became a haven for those who yearned to be Jews on their own terms. The cultural currents that once led Babylonian Jews to the Land of Israel reversed course. In time, the intellectual vitality of the Jewish nation shifted from the Land of Israel to the golah, the exile. Those who remained in the country of their ancestors found themselves in an exile of another kind, forced to endure the same everyday degradation faced by all their fellow Jews at home and abroad living under the arduous rule of Christian law (Milikowsky 1997, pp. 266–281). The Babylonian rabbis reveled in their newfound prestige. Talmudic texts preserving academic debates between Babylonian amoraim and their colleagues from the Land of Israel typically depict the former expressing deference to the latter as a matter of formality, but the same texts indicate that Babylonians considered themselves superior to the newcomers. To their minds, they were pure‐bred descendants of the ancient Jewish exiles who carried David’s royal lineage in their blood and the treasures of Solomon’s temple on their backs. Their synagogues, they claimed, were founded by those who once composed psalms

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by the rivers of Babylon. Their communal agency, the Exilarchate, was older and more honorable than the fading Patriarchate. They were more adept at fixing the calendar because they could distinguish the positions of the celestial bodies more speedily than their colleagues in the west (Gafni 1997, pp. 96–117). Such bravado would have been inconceivable in ages past, but the Babylonians were not unwarranted in their conceits for it would be to Babylon that the next generations of Jews would turn for ritual instruction, legal advice, and general enlightenment. There, in the historic birthplace of the Diaspora, the intellectual center of their nation would remain when, in the mid‐seventh century, the Arab tribes united under the banner of Islam were to topple the Sasanians. The integration of Babylonia into the Rashidun Caliphate during the mid‐seventh century ce brought its Jewish population under common rule with their fellow Jews in the Land of Israel, Syria, Egypt, and other lands recently taken from the Byzantines. The expansion that followed under the Umayyads later in that century reunited those populations with their fellow Jews in North Africa and Spain. The old lines of communication that once linked Diaspora and center were revived along the postal routes established to connect the far ends of the Muslim realm. Thus would the Babylonian Talmud, the literary masterpiece of Judaism’s classical period, make its way during the Middle Ages from the remote rabbinic academies on the banks of the Tigris and the Euphrates to Jewish communities throughout Europe and the Mediterranean world.

Conclusions In the past, scholars commenting on the variety of relationships cultivated between ancient Jews across wide distances maintained that those dealings invariably flowed from the peripheries of the Diaspora to the center (e.g., Safrai 1974). There, in the Land of Israel, the Temple stood, attracting steady streams of riches and worshippers from abroad. There dwelled the sages whose teachings sustained the Jewish people in the Temple’s absence and laid the groundwork of what would become Judaism’s foremost cultural paradigm in the talmudic era. I have tried to show in this essay that the relationships in question are not so easily mapped. Certainly, the Temple was a center of Jewish attention while it stood and the rabbinic movement played a vital role in securing the future of the Jewish nation when the Temple cult was no more. However, not all Jews outside the Land of Israel planned their lives around pilgrimage journeys or their finances around charitable donations overseas. Life in the Diaspora had its own local rhythms and cultural orientations. In times of peace, Diaspora Jews welcomed news from the Land of Israel. In times of conflict, they dreaded it. Nor were Jews in the Land of Israel unconcerned with the interests of their kin abroad. The priests, politicians, and rabbis who aimed to maintain the centrality of their people’s homeland depended continually on support and validation from the Diaspora. Ultimately, what they knew as the exile proved to be the very refuge of those who would rescue Judaism from the peril of Christian intolerance. The trade between Diaspora and center went both ways. Consider our old friend Pylades. The celebrated Jewish actor made his home close to the beating heart of the Roman Empire. Though born more than a hundred years after the fall of the Second Temple, he was still liable to pay the Jewish tax, which evidently


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remained in effect until the mid‐fourth century. One can only imagine the indignity he felt having to make restitution for the crimes of his long‐dead fellow Jews, to be reminded on an annual basis that his government considered him suspect of treachery on account of nothing but his ancestry, but that was the price Pylades chose to pay to be himself. He could have hidden behind the mask of fame. He did not have to call attention to his roots. Yet he chose to allow his admirers to declare to the city of Ostia that he was the son of Judah and a son of Judaea, a province that no longer even existed as far as the government was concerned. Pylades evidently left the Land of Israel for whatever it was he felt he could not attain there, but like so many other Diaspora Jews of his age, he paid tribute to that land in recognition of the unshakeable sense of identity it gave him.

REFERENCES Ben‐Eliyahu, Eyal (2012). Between Borders: The Boundaries of Eretz‐Israel in the Consciousness of the Jewish People in the Time of the Second Temple and in the Mishnah and Talmud Period [Hebrew]. Jerusalem: Yad Ben‐Zvi. Bickerman, Elias J. (1988). The Jews in the Greek Age. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Burns, Joshua Ezra (2017). Jew, Jews: Judaism: Second Temple and Hellenistic, and ­rabbinic Judaism. In: Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception, vol. 14 (eds. Constance M. Furey, Steven L. McKenzie, Thomas Chr. Römer, et  al.), 163–167. Berlin: De Gruyter. Doering, Lutz (2012). Ancient Jewish Letters and the Beginnings of Christian Epistolography. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. Gafni, Isaiah M. (1997). Land, Center and Diaspora: Jewish Constructs in Late Antiquity. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic. Gambetti, Sandra (2009). The Alexandrian Riots of 38 C.E. and the Persecution of the Jews: A Historical Reconstruction. Leiden: Brill. Goodman, Martin (1992). Diaspora reactions to the destruction of the Temple. In: Jews and Christians: The Parting of the Ways, A.D. 70–135. The Second Durham–Tübingen Research Symposium on Earliest Christianity and Judaism (Durham, September, 1989) (ed. James D.G. Dunn), 27–38. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. Goodman, Martin (1994). Jews and Judaism in the Mediterranean Diaspora in the late‐ Roman period: the limitations of evidence. Journal of Mediterranean Studies 4: 208–224. Gruen, Erich S. (2002). Diaspora: Jews Amidst Greeks and Romans. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Hezser, Catherine (2011). Jewish Travel in Antiquity. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. Kasher, Aryeh (1990). Jews and Hellenistic Cities in Eretz‐Israel: Relations of the Jews in Eretz‐Israel with the Hellenistic Cities During the Second Temple Period (332 BCE–70 CE) (translated by Marzell Kay). Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. Lapin, Hayim (2012). Rabbis as Romans: The Rabbinic Movement in Palestine, 100–400 CE. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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Levine, Lee I. (2005). The Ancient Synagogue: The First Thousand Years, 2e. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Milikowsky, Chaim (1997). Notions of exile, subjugation and return in rabbinic l­ iterature. In: Exile: Old Testament, Jewish, and Christian Perspectives (ed. James M. Scott), 265–296. Leiden: Brill. Modrzejewski, Joseph Mélèze (1995). The Jews of Egypt, from Rameses II to Emperor Hadrian (translated by Robert Cornman). Philadelphia, PA: Jewish Publication Society. Mor, Menahem (2016). The Second Jewish Revolt: The Bar Kokhba War, 132–136 CE. Leiden: Brill. Noy, David (1993). Jewish Inscriptions of Western Europe, vol. 1, Italy (Excluding the City of Rome), Spain and Gaul. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Noy, David, Panayotov, Alexander, and Bloedhorn, Hanswulf (2004). Inscriptiones Judaicae Orientis, vol. 1, Eastern Europe. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. Pearce, Sarah (2004). Jerusalem as “Mother‐City” in the writings of Philo of Alexandria. In: Negotiating Diaspora: Jewish Strategies in the Roman Empire (ed. John M.G. Barclay), 19–36. London: T&T Clark International. Rajak, Tessa (1998). The rabbinic dead and the Diaspora dead at Beth She’arim. In: The Talmud Yerushalmi and Graeco‐Roman Culture, vol. 1 (ed. Peter Schäfer), 349–366. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. Rajak, Tessa (2009). Translation and Survival: The Greek Bible of the Ancient Jewish Diaspora. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Safrai, Shmuel (1974). “Relations between the Diaspora and the Land of Israel.” In: The Jewish People in the First Century: Historical Geography, Political History, Social, Cultural and Religious Life and Institutions, vol. 1 (eds. Shmuel Safrai and Menahem Stern), 184–215. Assen: Van Gorcum. Sanders, E.P. (1990). Purity, food and offerings in the Greek‐speaking Diaspora. In: Jewish Law from Jesus to the Mishnah: Five Studies, 255–308. London: SCM. Schwartz, Seth (2010). Were the Jews a Mediterranean Society? Reciprocity and Solidarity in Ancient Judaism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Sivertsev, Alexei (2002). Private Households and Public Politics in 3rd–5th Century Jewish Palestine. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck.


Jews and Their Others (New Testament) Sandy L. Haney

Scholarship, Paul, and Jewish Identity Recent work critiquing the traditional “parting of the ways” model in late ancient Judaism and Christian studies has opened avenues for reconsidering the broader relationship between “Judaism” and “Christianity” and the value of Christian sources for studies of Jews and Judaism. The critics of the traditional model reject renderings of Judaism and Christianity as monolithic, discernible groups whose separation occurred early in the common era. Rather, recent scholarship recognizes that the “literary and material evidence … speaks to the complex dynamics of self‐definition among (and between) different kinds of Jews and Christians” (Reed 2007, p. xii). It emphasizes the permeability of Jewish culture and the myriad approaches for determining, conceptualizing, or claiming Jewish identity. Likewise, it challenges narratives that define Christianity from the viewpoint of the “orthodox” winners, instead insisting that scholars acknowledge the instability of early “Christian” identities, particularly in relation to “Judaism.” Scholars of the new model do not negate that by the fourth century ce, “[t]o be a Christian involved in part not being a ‘Jew,’ and vice versa” (Kraft 2007, p. 87). Nevertheless, they draw attention to the dangers of limiting the definition of what it meant—and means—to be a “Jew” or “Christian,” as well as the dangers of narrowly delimiting “Judaism” and “Christianity.” They counter the ideas of clearly delineated boundaries and monolithic “religions,” raising awareness of the place of “Christians” within the various voices clamoring to articulate Jewish identity and early Judaism. By emphasizing the contested, porous boundaries between those who (later) identify as “Jews” or as “Christians,” scholars who advocate for “the ways that never parted” provide a more complicated yet richer understanding of the origins of Judaism and Christianity. A Companion to Late Ancient Jews and Judaism: Third Century bce to Seventh Century ce, First Edition. Edited by Naomi Koltun-Fromm and Gwynn Kessler. © 2020 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published 2020 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


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Significantly, their work underscores the potential and power of the early “Christian” texts to serve as representational of “Jews” and “Judaisms” in the late ancient world.1 Similarly, over the past few decades, New Testament scholarship has reappraised and reconfigured scholarly approaches toward “Judaism” and the New Testament. Pauline scholarship in particular has garnered much attention due to the reassessments and debates over Paul’s identity in relation to Judaism. Traditionally, Post‐Reformation readings of Paul classified Paul as the “founder of Christianity,” a man who broke from Judaism in order to convert to a new religion, Christianity. Scholars accordingly read Paul’s letters as epistolary innovations that articulated the divergences between Jews and Christians. Judaism was perceived as a clearly defined, monolithic legalistic religion whose adherents lacked salvation due to their focus on works and their exclusivism. In contrast, Christianity (also homogeneous and well‐defined) served as a religion of grace and inclusivism. Christians and Jews thus became “others,” two groups defined against each other. In particular, for Christians, Jews functioned as The “Other” who rejected the doctrine of justification that Paul proclaimed. This “Christian perception of the Jew as ‘unsaved other’… had destructive consequences for the Jewish people” (Bieringer and Pollefeyt 2012, p. 1). Yet Pauline scholarship continued to place Judaism and Christianity in opposition to one another, viewing Paul as founder of the superior religion centered on Jesus Christ and salvation by grace (that is, a salvation that did not require any action from the recipient, particularly not adherence to the Jewish law). Particularly after the Holocaust, various New Testament scholars subverted this traditional understanding of Paul’s relationship with Judaism. Most significantly, scholars such as Krister Stendahl, E.P. Sanders, James D.G. Dunn, and N.T. Wright inaugurated the New Perspective(s) on Paul (hereafter NPP). While its adherents differ in many ways from one another, NPP regards Paul and his letters in light of Paul’s Jewish identity, reconstructing theological issues in Pauline literature as emblematic of the diversity within the Judaisms of the first century. According to NPP, Paul’s works disclose the ways in which Jewish followers of Jesus the Christ—especially Paul himself—navigated their Jewish identity, particularly through their interpretations of Jewish Scripture and teachings and in relation to the influx of Gentiles into their communities. Despite the manifold nuances and debates among its proponents, NPP precipitated reconsiderations of Paul’s identity and reconceptualizations of Pauline teachings. The strength of NPP is in its attempt to place Paul and Pauline Christianity within or in relation with—instead of diametrically opposed to—other first century Judaisms, thereby challenging the perception of Jews as wholly “Other” from Christians and acknowledging the complexity of identity issues in the early centuries of the common era. More recently, another school of thought has arisen critiquing both the traditional and NPP readings of Paul. Exemplified by scholars such as Mark D. Nanos, Paula Eisenbaum, Magnus Zetterholm, Neil Elliot, John Gager, Paula Fredriksen, and others, this “Paul within Judaism” (PwJ) approach contends that Paul does not reject Judaism, nor does he consider it ethnocentric and exclusivist (as NPP often contends). Rather, PwJ argues that “the writing and community building of the apostle Paul took place within late Second Temple Judaism(s), within which he remained a representative after his change of conviction about Jesus being the Messiah (Christ)” (Nanos 2015, p. 9). In other words, this approach considers appellations of Paul as “Christian” anachronistic and inappropriate,

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arguing instead for positioning Paul (and his epistles) within his contemporary Judaism. Paul’s communities, therefore, exist as subgroups within Judaism(s), rather than as something “different from and superior to Judaism” (Nanos 2015, p. 11). This recent scholarship on Paul and on the relationship between Judaism and Christianity attests to the ability of a foundational Christian text—the New Testament—to problematize constructs of Jews as wholly “Other” from Christians in the late ancient world. The New Testament collapses facile distinctions of “Jew” and “Christian” by making evident many Christ‐followers’ self‐identification as Jewish men and women. Its texts point to the fluidity of Jewish identity and unsettle fixed conceptions of “Jews” and “Christians” as distinct groups in this time period. Though all of the New Testament sources contribute to this conversation, Paul’s epistle to the Philippians and the book of Acts typify the contributions early “Christian” texts offer for exploring “Jewish” identity in antiquity. An analysis of passages related to Paul’s identity in Philippians and Acts reveals that Paul occupies a liminal space where Jewish identity and devotion to Jesus as Christ coalesce in complex and often confounding ways. This hybridity reiterates the importance of New Testament texts for cultivating a more extensive, thorough comprehension of Jewish identity in the late antique period. As Philippians and Acts characterize Christ‐following communities as subgroups within Judaism, their rhetoric simultaneously foreshadows the future divergences between Judaism and Christianity. Vocabulary, rhetorical arguments, and allusions to communal divisions highlight the dynamic process by which people eventually began to demarcate Christ‐followers (later “Christians”) as opposed to or different from Judaism. As the texts participate in the construction of identity, they also create space for diverse receptions of the text. Of particular significance here is the manner in which the rhetoric in Acts and Philippians create fissures that may engender anti‐Judaism in later readers. Furthermore, attention to the socio‐political context of the New Testament divulges the unsettled, capricious relationship between Jews and the Roman authorities. Philippians and Acts exemplify the political confusion regarding the place of Christ‐followers within Judaism. The confusion and the political repercussions (positive and negative) for Christ‐ followers who embraced Jewish identity markers underline the tangible implications of the debates over identity. The texts also accentuate the way the presence of Gentiles in the ekklesia further problematized determining boundaries and borders in the shifting, manifold arenas of contested Jewish identities.

Paul’s Identit(ies) in Philippians 3 The majority of scholars contend that Paul’s letter to the Philippians, considered one of his authentic letters (that is, written by Paul himself), was composed during the mid‐50s to early 60s ce. From imprisonment in Rome, Ephesus, or Caesarea, Paul addresses fellow believers with whom he had a close relationship. Scholars often label the epistle’s genre as a friendship letter or family letter due to Paul’s language of affection and his emphasis on their mutual support for one another. Christian tradition considers the recipients of this letter as members of the first ekklesia (assembly, gathering, association; often translated “church”) in Europe (cf. Phil. 4: 15,


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Acts 16; Runesson 2015, pp. 53–78). A city largely populated by retired military ­personnel, Philippi was a Roman colony located in Macedonia (Greece) along the Via Egnatia. Its locale and history formed Philippi into a city that blended Greek and Roman traditions, languages, and religious practices. Within this city and in their own ekklesia, the recipients of Paul’s letter navigated myriad, variable identities, including that of follower of Christ. In Philippians 3, Paul instructs an ekklesia comprising Gentiles and Jews. Within the primarily Gentile community, issues had arisen regarding whether Gentiles need to adhere to Jewish law (see Dohrmann, Chapter 17). Identity questions come to the fore as the letter explores the status of Jewish and Gentile members of the ekklesia, querying whether gentile Christ‐followers should embrace Jewish markers of identity, particularly circumcision. After warning against proponents of circumcision (Phil. 3: 2), Paul declares that those who follow Christ are “the circumcision” (Phil. 3: 3, NRSV). He then defends his authority by calling attention to his qualifications as a Jewish follower of Jesus. Paul lists his noteworthy Jewish heritage: he is “circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless” (Phil. 3: 5–6). Paul’s resume appears flawless. He was born into the Jewish community from a faithful and ancient family, he knows and obeys the law, and he has demonstrated zeal and righteousness. Yet Paul then claims that these gains are “loss because of Christ” (Phil. 3: 7); indeed, “I regard them as rubbish” (Phil. 3: 8). He announces that now, “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3: 13b–14). Traditional interpreters have often used these verses to propose that Paul exalts Christianity over Judaism, rejecting his Jewish identity and embracing a new, superior identity. In this traditional rendering, the spiritual embrace of the “righteousness from God based on faith” (Phil. 3: 9) supplants the “righteousness under the law” and circumcision of the “flesh” (Phil. 3: 4, 6). Not surprisingly, the passage leaves open the possibility for an interpretation that denigrates Judaism as “rubbish” (Phil. 3: 8). That is, the rhetoric of Philippians 3 allows for and underlies various anti‐Jewish readings of Paul’s letter. If Paul’s rhetoric in this passage expresses his relationship with Judaism over and against Christianity, then Christianity supersedes and displaces Judaism, as supersessionist and dispensationalist interpretations of Pauline literature, among others, assert. However, closer attention to the specific Philippian context as well as the recognition of the ethical implications of these interpretations have provoked scholars to reassess the strength of this explication of Paul’s rhetoric. The traditional view presupposes a normative, monolithic “Judaism” that marked “Christianity” as incongruous with Judaism. The anachronistic concept of distinct, clearly defined groups from which Paul can and must choose—Judaism and Christianity—discounts the diversity within the Jewish community, where multiple voices, including Jews who viewed Jesus as messiah, competed for eminence and power. It also ignores the liminal status of Christ‐followers in the first century, eliding the conflicts regarding identity that plague the nascent community and threaten its existence. In contrast to the traditional reading, a re‐evaluation of Philippians 3 recognizes the plurality of perspectives among Christ‐followers and their struggles to articulate and embody fidelity to Jesus as a heterogeneous community composed of Jews and Gentiles.

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It also considers the rhetorical nature of the letter and the way in which Philippians ­displays Paul’s attempt to navigate issues of identity for this particular community in the light of their particular situation. In Philippians 3, Paul refers to some people as “dogs … the evil workers … who mutilate the flesh” (Phil. 3: 2). His comments most likely refer to Jewish Christ‐followers who are promoting circumcision and Torah‐observance for all who follow Christ, not just those who also identify as Jewish. Paul’s words seek to safeguard the Philippian community from these real or expected adversaries (Phil. 3: 1–2). Paul articulates his own position regarding the status of Gentiles within the ekklesia. Philippians 3: 2–3 provide Paul’s short answer: Gentiles need not be circumcised. Paul does not ignore the discernible divisions between Gentiles and Jews, but he provides a vision of Judaism that includes Gentiles without necessitating their “conversion” via circumcision. Echoing Jewish eschatological traditions that Gentiles would experience salvation as Gentiles (ethnē) (e.g., Isa. 19, 66), Paul does not suggest all divisions between Jews and Gentiles are abolished, nor does he trivialize or privilege those community members who adhere to Jewish law—like himself—over the Gentiles in the ekklesia. Rather, he redefines the entire Philippian community in the light of their common identity in Christ and upholds their salvation through Christ, whether Jew or Gentile. The “mutilators of the flesh” may be proposing that circumcision provides “confidence” in one’s own status before God (Phil. 3: 2). In order to counter their argument, Paul provocatively labels markers of Jewish identity as “rubbish,” drawing attention to the inability of one’s Jewish identity to guarantee righteousness (Phil. 3: 8). Distinctions between Jews and Gentiles may remain, but they do not determine one’s status before God or position as “children of God” (Phil. 2: 15). Regardless of their identity as Jew or Gentile, all Christ‐followers share in the righteousness “that comes through faith in [or the faith of] Christ” (Phil. 3:9). Thus, Gentiles need not heed any adversaries who propose that “circumcision” is necessary for gentile followers of Christ. By making these claims, Paul permits the Philippian community to remain heterogeneous, preserving its Jewish/gentile diversity, even as he underlines their communal identity as followers of Christ Jesus. Rather than emphasize the ongoing but acceptable differences among the Jewish and gentile believers, and instead of forcing gentile Christ‐followers to reconfigure their self‐identity through circumcision, Paul presents a communal goal: imitation of Christ (cf. Phil. 3: 15–16). Paul rhetorically concentrates on the way their relation to Christ unites the community. Whether they also identify as Jewish or Gentile, Christ‐followers can identify themselves closely with Christ through imitating his suffering and attaining the “resurrection of the dead” (Phil. 3: 10–17). Though more traditional scholars often contend that Paul in this passage rejects Jewish law and circumcision for Christ‐ followers, the PwJ approach argues that Paul does not denigrate or reject his identity as a Jew nor reject Jewish identity markers. Rather, he uses identity construction to formulate a method for both Jews and Gentiles in the Philippian community to exist together as “children of God” united through Christ (Phil. 2: 15). Paul aligns with traditional Jewish restoration theological teachings regarding the eschatological salvation of Israel and the parallel but distinct salvation of the Gentiles (ethnē; nations), keeping the distinctions of Jew/Gentile even within an ekklesia connected by its devotion to Christ (Fredriksen 2015, pp. 175–201). For the Philippians, this means that Jewish and gentile Christ‐followers can


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participate in imitatio Christi and its rewards, but they will do so while preserving their identities as Jews and as Gentiles. Paul’s message in Philippians 3, then, addresses issues of communal identity in the light of his Christology (beliefs about Christ) and vision for the people of God. His rhetoric reveals the complex ways in which early Christ‐followers sought to understand themselves in the light of the juxtaposition and intersections of their various (Jewish/gentile) identities within the wider community of “Judaism,” whose fluid and contested boundaries encompassed diverse, competing groups. The text challenges perceptions that Paul’s self‐ identification in Christ demanded a rejection of his Jewish self‐understanding. Instead, Philippians 3 demonstrates the dynamic, variegated conceptions of “Judaisms” in the first century and the import of Paul’s rhetoric in that arena of competing visions.

Paul’s Identit(ies) in Acts The book of Acts serves as the second volume of the Luke‐Acts account. Traditionally the church has identified the author as Luke, a physician who may have traveled with Paul (cf., for example, Philemon 24, Colossians 4: 14, 2 Timothy 4: 11, as well as Acts 16: 10–17 and 27: 1–28: 16). Yet others propose an alternative, anonymous author or redactor due to discrepancies between Acts and Paul’s accounts of his life in his letters. Most agree, however, that the author who composed Acts also wrote the Gospel of Luke. Though the exact identity of the author is indeterminable, scholars typically characterize the author as a Gentile or a Hellenistic Jewish Christ‐follower. If he is a gentile Christ‐follower, as a majority of scholars argue, the author of Luke‐Acts (hereafter Luke) serves as the exception for New Testament authors, for the other New Testament books are attributed to Jewish followers of Jesus. Scholars struggle to categorize Acts within a particular literary genre, though many label it as a Hellenistic biography, Greco‐Roman novella, Greek historiography, or biblical narrative. Acts includes various speeches, miraculous stories, visions, and missionary journeys, focusing on the apostles, particularly Peter and Paul. Acts recounts the growth and expansion of the church according to Jesus’ commission in Acts 1: 8, beginning in Jerusalem with Peter and culminating with Paul’s imprisonment in Rome. Although the text only traces events up to the mid‐60s, scholars date the writing of the book to the mid‐ 80s. Thus, the book of Acts provides multiple perspectives as its gentile author constructs a narrative about earlier events concerning followers of Jesus and the spread of the gospel through Jewish apostles to a multitude of places and people, including the ethnē (Gentiles). Though much of the narrative of Acts focuses attention on Paul the apostle, scholarly attitudes toward the reliability of Acts as a source for Paul’s life vary widely. Its blend of ancient genres underlines Acts’ tendentiousness and shapes its portrayal of Paul. What marks Acts as a significant source for studies of Jews and Judaism does not depend on its reliability regarding Paul’s life, however. Rather, its function as a literary construction of Paul’s life (regardless of its relation to the historical Paul) offers windows into the arena of contested identities within the Jewish communities. Furthermore, if Acts was composed in the mid‐80s, then Acts also provides insight into the ongoing tensions surrounding “Christians” in relation to “Jews,” even after the time

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period it describes. Though the events in the narrative purport to end around the early 60s, the author’s own historical setting shapes and governs his language and his depiction of Paul’s life. Acts speaks from the perspective of the insider, for Luke self‐identifies as a follower of Jesus. If scholars are correct in viewing Luke as a gentile follower of Jesus, however, then his voice also mediates an outsider perspective when it comes to Jewish identity. Luke’s own complicated identity therefore problematizes his narration and enriches Acts’ ability to convey the complexity of “Judaism” and “Christianity” in the first century of the common era. In Acts 9, Luke recounts an experience of Paul (Saul) that defines the rest of his life. While traveling on the road to Damascus in order to arrest followers of Jesus, Paul—in this passage referred to by his Hebrew name, Saul—sees a blinding light from heaven and hears a voice asking him why he persists in persecution (Acts 9: 1–4). The voice claims to be the voice of Jesus, who then instructs Saul to go into the city (Acts 9: 5–6). When in Damascus, Saul regains his sight with the assistance of Ananias, a disciple who lays hands on Saul (Acts 9: 7–18). After being baptized, Saul ceases to investigate and arrest followers of Jesus in the synagogues; instead, Saul begins to share the news about Jesus with those in the synagogues and with Gentiles (Acts 9: 19–22). He himself then comes under scrutiny for his behavior and “the Jews” seek to kill him (Acts 9: 23–24). Saul’s disciples rescue him from the Jews and Saul journeys to Jerusalem (Acts 9: 25–26). While traditional scholars often refer to this event as Paul’s “conversion” from Judaism to Christianity, Krister Stendahl influentially and persuasively labeled Paul’s Damascus Road experience a prophetic “call,” drawing attention to Paul’s ongoing identity as a Jewish man. Similar to the call narratives of the ancient prophets, Paul has an encounter with a divine voice and receives a prophetic vocation to be “Apostle to the Gentiles” (Stendahl 1976, p. 10). Acts evokes the language of the prophets to inscribe Paul’s commission with prophetic weight. His mission to the Gentiles emulates his prophetic predecessors, who likewise were filled with the Spirit of God. The Damascus Road story thus does not abolish Paul’s Jewish identity. Rather, it clarifies Paul’s new vocation: to reach the Gentiles with the gospel. In other words, Paul’s experience on the Damascus Road does not signify a “conversion” away from Judaism, but instead explicates his actions throughout the book as a Jewish prophet focused on reaching both Jews and Gentiles with the gospel of Jesus the Christ. In short, Paul’s story represents not a struggle between monolithic “Judaism” and “Christianity” but an intra‐Jewish dispute over the possible expansion of Jewish identity in the first century. Paul represents one group within Judaism, identified as “the Way,” who claim and proclaim Jesus as messiah (christos) to both Jews and Gentiles. Though Paul does not convert from one religion to another, Acts 9 nevertheless testifies to the shifting status of Christ‐followers as somewhat distinguishable groups within Judaism. Acts 9 introduces Paul as a persecutor of those “who belonged to the Way” (Acts 9: 2). Paul seeks these people of the Way—whom we anachronistically label “Christians”— in synagogues. Their presence in the synagogues indicates that followers of the Way associated themselves with or, more likely, identified themselves as Jews. Paul’s post‐Damascus Road actions support this convergence of identities. He himself goes to the synagogues to share the prophetic message about Jesus as “the Son of God” (Acts 9: 20), preaching a vision of Judaism that proclaims Jesus as the Messiah. Thus, from NPP and PwJ perspectives, Paul’s Damascus Road experience attests to Paul’s acceptance of one specific form


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of Judaism. Paul continues to self‐identify as Jewish as he promotes Jesus as Messiah. Accordingly, Saul’s persecution of Christ‐followers and his decision to join them represents not Paul’s change in identification of himself as “Jew” to “Christian.” Rather, it discloses a wider intra‐Jewish dispute concerning Jewish identity into which Paul’s Damascus Road experience catapults him. Paul chooses between competing conceptions of faithfulness to God related to the person of Jesus. Though adherents of these competing conceptions will eventually be labeled “Jews” and “Christians,” the narrative in Acts underscores that such distinctions are anachronistic to the first century. For Paul, regarding Jesus as Messiah does not prevent identifying himself as Jewish: “‘Christian’ and ‘Jew’ were compatible identities in Paul’s formulation” (Boyarin 2007, p. 69). Nevertheless, Paul’s original mission—to find and transport members of the Way to the council and chief priests in Jerusalem for trial (Acts 9: 1–2, 21)—reveals that not everyone accepted followers of the Way as compatible with Jewish culture. Though followers of the Way may have perceived themselves as Jewish, the Jerusalem leaders disagreed. According to Acts, the Jewish leaders believed the Way was threatening normative Jewish identity because members of the Way were transgressing the boundaries set by those leaders. In short, the Jewish leaders rejected the Way as a legitimate formulation of “Judaism.” As identities were contested, Jerusalem’s Jewish leaders attempted to maintain their authority by defining boundaries. The leaders promoted their vision for Judaism through suppressing the “Other”: that is, through their support of Paul’s original mission to remove members of the Way from synagogues and to bring them before the council. The narrative therefore depicts the Jewish leaders as active participants, through their antagonism toward members of the Way, in the eventual delineation between those groups who will be labeled “Christian” and “Jewish.” Yet Acts does not simply depict the Jewish leaders treating members of the Way as “Other,” since Luke constructs a particular narrative that participates in “othering” by contrasting Saul with “the Jews” or “the Judaeans” (οı̒ ̓Iουδαιοι; Acts 9: 22–23). Although the term occurs 79 times within Acts, a cursory glance at the phrase in Acts 9 demonstrates the ambiguity of the term and highlights the perplexing slippage of terminology and Jewish identity. Prior to Acts 9, the term ̓Iουδαιοι appears without the definite article; in and after Acts 9, the term primarily functions literarily to distinguish the antagonists (οı̒ ̓Iουδαιοι) from the apostolic protagonists (e.g., Paul). The term thus divulges the rhetorical vocabulary by which Luke demarcates between Paul and his opponents. In Acts 9: 22–23, Luke employs the label “the Jews/Judaeans” to describe those who plot against Paul after hearing him preach in the synagogue in Damascus. Despite Paul’s earlier collaboration with Jewish leaders and his continuing self‐identification as a Jew, the phrase segregates Paul and his disciples (Acts 9: 24–25) from “the Jews/Judaeans” (Acts 9: 24–25). Therefore, οı̒ ̓Iουδαιοι function as a particular (though undefined) group competing with “the Way,” even though both groups position themselves within Judaism. At the same time, like Josephus and Philo, Luke problematizes unequivocal definitions of οı̒ ̓Iουδαιοι by using a term that possesses multifarious meanings. “The Jews” may define those who share cultic practices associated with worship of God, since “the Jews” appear tied to the synagogue, which functioned as a “house of prayer” for those who followed God (Acts 9: 19–22; cf. also 14: 1). Yet the term could also or instead designate people living in or originating from Judaea who share a common language and customs;

Jews and Their Others (New Testament)


in this case, “the Judaeans” is a more accurate translation. For instance, while Acts 9: 22 refers to “the Jews/Judaeans who lived in Damascus” (τους ̓Iουδαιους τους κατοικουντας ἐν Δαμασκῳ) as Paul’s opponents in Damascus, Acts 9: 29 names “the Hellenists” (τους ̒Eλληνιστας) as Paul’s adversaries in Jerusalem. Scholars debate whether “the Hellenists” refers to gentile converts, Greek‐speaking Jews, and/or diaspora Jews; in either case, Acts distinguishes between “the Hellenists” and οı̒ ̓Iουδαιοι. Thus, the term οı̒ ̓Iουδαιοι may specify one particular division among the many groups within “Judaism,” based on literary context, geography, language, and shared ethnic origin. Alternatively, the term could elide locational divisions within Judaism by conflating various groups who oppose the apostles under the term “the Jews,” since Paul encounters “the Jews” as adversaries in other settings throughout the rest of the book (e.g., Acts 14: 4, 21: 27). Such coalescing may represent tensions and identity contestations among “Jews” and “Christians” in the decades after the events recounted. Though it is difficult to ascertain whether the narrative correctly depicts use of the appellation “the Jews” during Paul’s lifetime, the term’s presence in the mid‐80s texts preserves a rather early “othering” of Jews by Christ‐followers—i.e., by the author of Acts, who may be a Gentile. Accordingly, the phrase manifests the early fault lines that lead to the eventual demarcation between “Jews” and “Christians.” While the term may more accurately represent the rhetoric of Luke than the rhetoric of Paul, its presence in the text indicates that some followers of Christ (like Luke) viewed themselves as distinct from “the Jews,” even if οı̒ ̓Iουδαιοι specified only one of many competing groups among whom Jesus’ followers navigated their identity. If Luke was a Gentile, moreover, the phrase οı̒ ̓Iουδαιοι signifies one way the presence of Gentiles in the ekklesia may have promoted the future creation of the category “Christian/Christianity” as distinct from “Jew/Judaism.” Furthermore, the translation of οı̒ ̓Iουδαιοι as “the Jews” and their depiction in Acts as opponents of Paul and the other apostles elucidates the anti‐Judaic/anti‐Semitic reception of Acts. Construction of “the Jews” as distinct from—and adversaries of—the leaders of “Christianity” creates space for readers to perceive “Jews” as “Other.” Regardless of whether Luke’s use of οı̒ ̓Iουδαιοι was meant to specify only certain groups or divisions within Judaism, or if it functioned literarily to strengthen the portrayal of the protagonists, the term’s prevalence and pejorative connotation have engendered anti‐Jewish readings of the text: “…the negatively portrayed Jews become representative of all Jewish people in the minds of many readers; all Jewish people become the dangerous external other” (Smith 2011, p. 58). Thus, passages such as Acts 9 not only emphasize the confluence, disjunction, and complexity of “Jewish” and “Christian” identities, but they also provide insight into the ways early “Christian” texts shaped and contributed to the tumultuous history of Jewish–Christian relations.

Political Implications Concerning Identity Philippians 3 The New Testament texts likewise reveal the political implications of Jewish identity in the first century. In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he warns his readers, “Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh!” (Phil. 3: 2). As


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­ iscussed previously, many scholars read this passage as Paul’s defense against opponents d who contend that Gentiles must convert to Judaism in order to follow Jesus. Further attention to the socio‐political context of the letter nuances and augments this interpretation by considering the passage in the light of the role of Judaism as a religio licita and the social consequences for Gentiles professing Jesus as lord (κυριος). These additional interpretations make evident the political nature of Paul’s rhetoric in Chapter 3. This reading of Philippians thus divulges the potential for Jewish political potency in the Roman world. Other ancient texts attest that Roman rulers sometimes viewed the Jews and, later, Christians, with hostility and suspicion: these monotheists refused to worship the Roman gods, thus threatening the pax deorum and pax Romana. Nevertheless, the Romans often honored the ancientness of others’ religious practices, and they thus recognized and respected (at least in theory) the antiquity of Jewish devotion to their god. The Romans accordingly granted Judaism the official status of a religio licita, allowing various tax exemptions, offering some protection from persecution, and freeing adherents from civic duties, particularly worship at the civic cults. However, because gentile Christ‐followers could be recognized as distinct from Jewish Christ‐followers due to their uncircumcision, gentile Christ‐followers did not fall under the protection of the religio licita status of Judaism(s). Embracing Jewish identity markers—alluded to through references to “circumcision”—could have positive repercussions, especially for gentile Christ‐followers. Circumcision could function for these Gentiles as “a means of obtaining social identity but also as a means of achieving social protection” (Tellbe 1995, p. 116). The heavily gentile Philippian ekklesia therefore had to determine whether gentile Christ‐followers should pursue circumcision for socio‐political purposes. Paul’s response to the dilemma is multifaceted and signifies not only the positive political capital Judaism possessed but also Paul’s perspective concerning identity in Christ as eclipsing (but not erasing) Jewish and gentile identity. Paul’s initial warning against the “dogs” in Phil. 3: 2 chastises those who propose circumcision as a means to mitigate gentile Christ‐followers’ liminal status as people neither fully Jewish nor fully loyal to Rome and her civic cults. Writing from prison, Paul reminds the Philippians that Jewish identity markers do not guarantee freedom. He, a Jew by birth with high credentials, has “suffered the loss of all things” due to his allegiance to Christ (Phil. 3: 8). “Circumcision,” or being recognizable as “Jewish,” therefore does not offer “confidence in the flesh” (Phil. 3: 3), nor does it preclude suffering. In addition, Paul ties suffering to imitation of Christ (Phil. 3: 9–11, 17). If the Christ‐followers face social stigma and loss of honor, if they risk their lives socially and/ or physically due to their association with Jesus the Christ, then they emulate the one who took on the form of a slave and submitted to death on a cross (Phil. 2: 5–11). Their experiences provide a means by which they, like Paul, can “know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, …[and] attain the resurrection from the dead” (Phil. 3: 10). Any opponents who promote circumcision in order to avoid suffering thus spurn the message of Christ’s death and resurrection: they “live as enemies to the cross of Christ” and “their minds are set on earthly things” (Phil. 3: 18–19). Paul proposes that in contrast to their adversaries, gentile Christ‐followers should view any negative political consequences of their liminality as a sharing in Christ, remembering that as he was exalted,

Jews and Their Others (New Testament)


so too will they be glorified as citizens of heaven (Phil. 2: 5–11; 3: 20–21). Similarly, Paul also emphasizes that loyalty to Jesus transcends loyalty to the emperor. Those who want to experience the righteousness “that comes through faith in Christ” will not worship the Roman emperor as lord and savior (Phil. 3: 9), for their “citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that [they] are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3: 20). Rather than being circumcised in a vain hope to avoid political repercussions for following Christ, Paul exhorts the Philippians to “press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3: 14). His rhetoric in this passage hence attests to the way in which the political relationship of Jews with Roman authorities affected the controversies over the role of Gentiles in the communities of followers of Jesus the Christ.

Expulsion from Rome: Acts 18 The literary context of Acts and its depiction of the socio‐political events during Paul’s lifetime likewise construct a portrait of a world wherein the categories of “Jew” and “Christian” were fluid, polymorphous, and uncharted. As Acts introduces Priscilla and Aquila, two Jews expelled from Rome, the narrative illustrates the political confusion surrounding Jewish identity. It also points to the precarious location of Jews in the Roman world, highlighting the negative political repercussions followers of Christ faced through their identification as Jews. The early second century ce Roman historian Suetonius claims that “Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus … [Claudius] expelled them from Rome” (Suetonius, Claud. 25.40, translated by Rolfe, 1914). Though the identity of “Chrestus” remains a matter of debate, many scholars believe that Suetonius means “Christos,” the title many early Christians gave to Jesus. Regardless of the exact details of the conflict, if “Chrestus” is an aberration of “Christos,” then Suetonius’ words indicate that debates related to Jesus took place within, rather than apart from, the Jewish community in Rome. The book of Acts, written decades before Suetonius, testifies to this expulsion (and may have been the source for Suetonius). In Acts 18: 2, Luke remarks, “There [Paul] found a Jew [ ̓Iουδαιον] named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews [παντας τους ̓Iουδαιους] to leave Rome.” The passage in Acts (as in Suetonius) underscores that during this political event, the Romans did not distinguish Christ‐followers from other Jews, at least for those who (like Paul) viewed their devotion to Christ as compatible with their Jewish identity. Because Acts clarifies that Aquila was a “native of Pontus,” it seems unlikely that the term παντας τους ̓Iουδαιους here refers only to Judaeans. Rather, from the comments in Acts 18: 2, it appears that Priscilla and Aquila themselves identified as Jews, because they left Rome due to the expulsion of “all the Jews” (Acts 18: 2). At the same time, Luke portrays Priscilla and Aquila as a couple known for their adherence to “the Way,” one nascent form of Christianity.2 In Acts 18: 26, the two instruct Apollos, a fellow Jew, so that he better understands the “Way of God.” Priscilla and Aquila’s story manifests their converging identities as both Jews and members of the Way and elucidates how their multiple identities translated into confusion at the political level.


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Their story also underlines the various perspectives involved in identity formation. From the perspective of the Romans, the people “constantly [making] disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus” fell under one category: “Jews.” Yet within the wider Jewish community, Priscilla and Aquila were known as members of “The Way” and thus at odds with other Jews who did not embrace Jesus as the christos. The passage thus reveals the collision of identities and exemplifies the way outsiders (Roman authorities) and insiders (Priscilla and Aquila) perceived following Christ as indistinguishable from or compatible with Jewish identity. Definitions of this couple as “Christians” and leaders in “Christianity” therefore impose later categories of identity on Priscilla and Aquila. Indeed, because any terminology of “Christian” is absent from this account, Acts evinces that the label “Jews” does not necessarily preclude the presence of Christ‐followers in Jewish communities in the late ancient world. Moreover, Acts 18 exposes a Roman perspective viewing Judaism as a threat to Roman rule—a perspective more common after, rather than before, the Jewish Revolt of 66–73 ce. Elsewhere, the book of Acts (written post‐73 ce) indicates that adherents of Judaism were often viewed suspiciously. In a story from the accounts of Paul’s life, for example, Luke suggests that Roman officials and others associated Jewish people with suspicious or empire‐threatening behavior. In Acts 16, the people of Philippi bring Paul and Silas before the magistrates, arguing “These men are Jews ( ̓Iουδαιοι), and are throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice” (Acts 16: 20–21). Not only do these words illuminate the absence of well‐ defined monolithic divisions between Jews and Christ‐followers, but the accusation also demonstrates that Roman officials sometimes considered Judaism a potential threat to imperial power. Such attestation calls attention to the instability of “Jews” as a minority group whose religious practices and customs did not conform to Roman ideology in a Roman‐dominated world. Followers of “the Way”—those who later will be called Christians—represented a minority group within a minority group, and therefore their political situation likewise remained precarious. Maintaining their identity within Judaism sometimes resulted in political disfavor, as in the case of Priscilla and Aquila’s inclusion in the Jewish expulsion from Rome. In other situations, however, followers of Christ may have found close identification with Judaism politically beneficial (at least theoretically), as in the case of Philippians 3.

Concluding Remarks The New Testament, like other early Christian texts, calls attention to not only the tenuous political situation of Christ‐followers—and the complexity of their relationship with “Judaism”—but also to the manifold, sometimes conflicting, relationships between the Roman political powers and adherents of Judaism(s). In other words, the political turmoil and the slippage of terminology in the New Testament texts demonstrate that Judaisms, not Judaism, existed in late antiquity. The texts highlight the ways in which outsiders (e.g., the Roman government) often could not or did not distinguish the subtle or ­significant differences among the various Judaisms, including those who followed Jesus.

Jews and Their Others (New Testament)


Texts such as Acts and Philippians simultaneously point to the potential negative and positive political implications, respectively, for understanding oneself as a Jew or aligning oneself with Judaism. Thus, New Testament texts explicate the ever‐changing political ­atmosphere of late antiquity and the way identity issues among Jewish and gentile Christ‐ followers complicated relationships within the ekklesia and with the Roman authorities. Furthermore, New Testament sources like Acts and Philippians subvert attempts to view Judaism and Christianity as monolithic, distinct groups. They instead affirm the need to adopt “a perspective that refuses the option of seeing Christian and Jew, Christianity and Judaism, as fully formed, bounded, and separate entities and identities in late antiquity” (Boyarin 2004, p. 7). These texts attest to the juxtaposition and convergence of identities among Jewish Christ‐followers, as well as the fluidity and contestation of ­boundaries and partitions between groups and people anachronistically demarcated as “Jews/Judaism” and “Christian/Christianity.” These passages thus underscore the potency for early “Christian” sources to be representational of “Jews” and “Judaism” in the late ancient world.

NOTES 1 Paul’s use of ’ioudiaos in Greek could easily be “Judaean,” “someone of Judean descent,” or “Jew,” which in English has both ethnic and religious connotations. See below, and Furstenburg, Chapter  11, for a more in‐depth discussion of the nomenclature. 2 Paul’s letters confirm this identity, for in Romans 16: 3, 1 Corinthians 16: 19, and 2 Timothy 4: 19, Paul greets the wife and husband as fellow workers and participant‐ leaders in house churches.

REFERENCES Bieringer, Reimund, and Pollefeyt, Didier (eds.) (2012). Paul and Judaism: Crosscurrents in Pauline Exegesis and the Study of Jewish‐Christian Relations. New York: T&T Clark. Boyarin, Daniel (2004). Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo‐Christianity. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press. Boyarin, Daniel (2007). Semantic differences; or “Judaism”/“Christianity.” In: The Ways that Never Parted: Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages (eds. Adam H. Becker and Annette Yoshiko Reed), 65–86. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress. Fredriksen, Paula (2015). The question of worship: Gods, Pagans, and the redemption of Israel. In: Paul Within Judaism: Restoring the First‐Century Context to the Apostle (eds. Mark D. Nanos and Magnus Zetterholm), 175–202. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press. Kraft, Robert A. (2007). The weighing of the parts. In: The Ways That Never Parted: Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages (eds. Adam H. Becker and Annette Yoshiko Reed), 87–94. Minneapolis, MN: Fortres Presss.


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Nanos, Mark D. (2015). Introduction. In: Paul Within Judaism: Restoring the First‐ Century Context to the Apostle (eds. Mark D. Nanos and Magnus Zetterholm), 1–30. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press. Reed, Annette (2007). Preface. In: The Ways That Never Parted: Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages (eds. Adam H. Becker and Annette Yoshiko Reed), ix–xiii. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press. Runesson, Anders (2015). The question of terminology: the architecture of contemporary discussions on Paul. In: Paul within Judaism: Restoring the First‐Century Context to the Apostle (eds. Mark D. Nanos and Magnus Zetterholm), 53–78. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press. Smith, Mitzi J. (2011). The Literary Construction of the Other in the Acts of the Apostles: Charismatics, the Jews, and Women. Eugene, OR: Pickwick. Stendahl, Krister (1976). Paul Among the Jews and Gentiles. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press. Suetonius, translated by J.C. Rolfe (1914). Lives of the Caesars, 2 vols, LCL. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/ancient/suet‐ claudius‐rolfe.asp. Tellbe, Mikael (1995). The sociological factors behind Philippians 3: 1–11 and the conflict at Philipi. Journal for the Study of the New Testament 17 (55): 97–121.


Rabbis and Their Others Mira Beth Wasserman

Introduction In an argument that has been widely embraced in the field, Seth Schwartz suggests the rabbis were a marginal class in Late Antiquity, with little impact beyond their immediate circles. He points out that the rabbis did not leave behind much of an epigraphic record and that their influence in broader society seems minimal; while the Patriarch and other rabbis do get mentioned in non‐Jewish sources now and again, even these sources suggest they were fairly peripheral (Schwartz 2001). While the rabbis lived in a political world in which they were marginal figures, in the world that they conjured in their teachings and rulings, the rabbis are central, and everyone else is on the margins. The principal focus of rabbinic literature is the rabbis themselves—their activities, their interpretive traditions, their determinations of Jewish norms. Rabbinic narrative and law acknowledge a larger world beyond the walls of the rabbinic study‐house, inhabited by Roman tax‐collectors and Persian kings, laborers, philosophers, brigands, and market‐women, but these figures seem to live on the edges of the rabbinic imagination, coming in and out of view as bit players in the rabbinic sources. The inward focus of so much of rabbinic literature means that even when such outsiders appear in a story or a legal tradition, their depictions are likely to tell us far more about rabbinic attitudes, fantasies, and ideology than about the lives and experiences of those who are not rabbis. The rabbis define their own identity in contradistinction to others. Throughout rabbinic literature, rabbis tell stories, transmit law, and make judgments about those outside their circle. Often, these discussions highlight how rabbis differ from others in their behavior, beliefs, constitution, or status, but sometimes they identify points of commonality that A Companion to Late Ancient Jews and Judaism: Third Century bce to Seventh Century ce, First Edition. Edited by Naomi Koltun-Fromm and Gwynn Kessler. © 2020 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published 2020 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


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rabbis share with other people. While rabbinic literature might reveal little about what it was like to be a rabbi’s wife, neighbor, or rival, it tells us a lot about how the rabbis understood themselves and their place in the world. At issue in rabbinic deliberations over what distinguishes their set from others are contested questions that cut to the heart of rabbinic anthropology: How is Jewishness constituted? Is there such a thing as virtue or human goodness outside the realm of Jewish law? What binds the rabbis to other people and to the wider world? This essay focuses on three groups that rabbis define themselves against in different ways and to varying degrees: non‐Jews; women; and non‐rabbinic Jews, or ʿamey ha‐ ’aretz.1 I will trace some of the salient ways that rabbis draw and re‐draw boundaries of descent, gender, belief, and practice so as to distinguish themselves from others. As we will see, rabbinic sources reflect a range of opinions about where all these boundary lines fall and on what kinds of crossings they can sustain. I read the rabbis’ deliberations about how to construct the “Us” that they contrast with “Them” as debates about the nature of rabbinic identity and authority, and beyond this, as rabbinic discussions about what it means to be a person and a part of Israel.

Non‐Jews Shaye Cohen felicitously observes that there are two kinds of people in the world, those who divide the world into two kinds of people and those who do not (Cohen 1999, p. 1). As he notes, the rabbis are very much the kind that divides the world into two kinds of people. While rabbinic conceptions of Jewish identity are in some ways continuous with attitudes of earlier ages, there is something new about the rabbinic period, and it is reflected in the rabbinic penchant for partitioning the world between Israel on the one hand and non‐Jews on the other. Non‐Jews are not the only group that rabbis regard as Other, but they are no doubt the most important to rabbinic self‐understanding. A new language for describing Jewish difference emerges in the tannaitic sources, where, for the first time, diverse non‐Jewish identities are subsumed under the epithet goy. Ishay Rosen‐Zvi and Adi Ophir (2011) argue that the rabbinic invention of the goy expresses a new conception of Jewish identity, whereby Jewishness is constructed in binary opposition to all others. The rabbinic goy is a different kind of concept than the biblical goy. In biblical Hebrew, goy means “nation,” a generic term that is applied to Israel as well as other peoples. In the Bible, Israel is regarded as one among a multiplicity of diverse nations, and biblical laws treat Egyptians, Amalekites, and Moabites very differently. In the post‐biblical literature of the Second Temple period as well, foreign nations are regarded as a diverse plurality and not simply as a generalized other. A transformation occurs in the early rabbinic period, whereby goy comes to connote an individual non‐Jewish male and the term yisrael becomes the standard designation for an individual Jewish male. In rabbinic discourse, goy is functionally equivalent to the English “non‐Jew” in that its meaning derives from a ­structural opposition with the term yisrael, or “Jew.” Rosen‐Zvi and Ophir point out that the term goy has no particular content; it is a structural category, not a description of an identity. With this term, the rabbis divide the world into two, with Jews on one side and non‐Jews, their binary opposite, on the other.

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The consolidation of the rabbinic conception of the goy does not mean that rabbinic literature conveys a single, consistent view on non‐Jews or on the nature of the boundary that distinguishes Jews from non‐Jews. Is Jewish difference chiefly a matter of religious belief or practice? Or is it more deeply ingrained, endowed by nature or by God? Rabbinic sources do not speak with one voice on the question of whether Jewish identity is ascribed or avowed, inherited or volitional. There is also another salient issue that rabbinic terminology leaves unsettled as well: gender. To what extent are women included in the collective of Israel? The terms yisrael and goy refer to male individuals, and their connotations with regard to gender are ambiguous. Females are neither explicitly included nor excluded with this terminology. The dichotomy of yisrael versus goy makes women invisible on both sides of the divide. This is not to say that the rabbis do not establish some basic parameters for setting the bounds of Jewish communal belonging. In contrast to the Judaisms of earlier periods, rabbinic Judaism develops clear procedures whereby both male and female non‐Jews might traverse the boundary separating Jews from others and become Jewish. As Christine Hayes (2002) demonstrates, the rabbinic institution of conversion is a departure from some earlier definitions of Jewishness in which the boundaries between Jews and others are impermeable. Beginning with the biblical book of Ezra, certain sectarian strains of Second Temple Judaism locate Jewishness in “holy seed,” an ideology that precludes both intermarriage and conversion (see Furstenberg, Chapter 11). In contrast with this ideology, the rabbis accept the offspring of non‐Jews into the community of Israel; for the rabbis, descent is a determinant of Jewish identity that is sufficient in and of itself, but is not necessary. Still, as Hayes acknowledges, rabbinic sources are not uniform in their embrace of converts. Some traditions emphasize persistent differences in status that separate converts from born Jews, while others minimize such legal disabilities (Hayes 2007, pp. 253–255). The extent of the acceptance of the children of mixed marriages is also in dispute among rabbinic authorities. Animating rabbinic debates about the integration of converts and the children of intermarriages is a deeper disagreement about what it means to be a Jew. For some rabbis, Jewishness is expressed through practice and belief, but for others, Jewishness is inborn and endemic. While from a certain perspective, the rabbinic institution of conversion expresses the priority of individual choice over inherited identity, it is also possible to see the procedural requirements established by the rabbis as a consolidation of the boundary that sets Jews and non‐Jews in binary opposition. According to rabbinic laws of conversion, Jewishness is never a matter of self‐identification and individual choice alone, but rather an official status ordained by rabbinic authorities; rabbis alone control the boundaries that separate the Jew from the goy. Rabbinic literature collects a wide array of categories, characters, and types in the container called goy. In some contexts, rabbinic sources present the non‐Jew in the guise of an oppressive colonial power; in others, the non‐Jew is primarily a religious threat, a seducer or snare for transgression. Often, however, the non‐Jew under discussion is simply a private individual with whom Jews have economic dealings; commercial interactions across the Jewish–Gentile divide create legal anomalies that the rabbis parse and puzzle over. Contributing to the diversity of the ways that rabbinic sources relate to non‐Jews is the multiplicity of contexts in which rabbinic literature takes shape. While the typical non‐ Jew conjured by the Mishnah was likely a pagan participant in the imperial cult, the editors


Mira Beth Wasserman

of the Babylonian Talmud bring their own acquaintance with their Zoroastrian neighbors to bear on their interpretations of the Mishnah’s rulings. The language of the goy conceals disparities in historical experience, collapsing a wide range of rabbinic perspectives within a single term. One challenge in describing rabbinic constructions of Jewish difference is the way that a single passage might juxtapose colliding views on what precisely distinguishes Jews from non‐Jews. Even when we limit our view to the legal materials in the Mishnah and the Tosefta, we find that Jewish difference is constructed in a variety of ways. For the most part, these works relate to non‐Jews as objects of rabbinic law and betray little animus or fear of Gentiles. Rabbinic law presumes a wide range of commercial relationships linking Jews and non‐Jews, and intervenes to protect Jews from running amok of religious prohibitions. Gary Porton surveys the treatment of non‐Jews in the Mishnah and the Tosefta and observes: The writers of Mishnah‐Tosefta were able to distinguish between the gentile as farmer, ­merchant, borrower, lender, and the like, and the gentile as idolater who was also a farmer, merchant, borrower, lender, and the like. The distinction was important, for only when the gentile was overtly engaged in, or was presumed to be engaged in, the worship of his idol was he considered to be an idolater whom Israelites had to avoid. (Porton 1988, p. 243)

The relative neutrality with which the tannaitic authorities regard non‐Jewish idolaters starkly contrasts with biblical discussions of idolatry, in which idols are not merely to be avoided but violently destroyed. The Mishnah and the Tosefta are not uniformly dispassionate with regard to interactions with non‐Jews, however. Tractate Avodah Zarah, the section of tannaitic law ostensibly dedicated to the treatment of idolatry, gives comparatively little attention to most aspects of idol worship; it is, however, intensely preoccupied with the prospect of non‐Jews using Jewish wine in idolatrous libations, a focus that defies rationality, perhaps bespeaking anxiety about seepages at the borders of Jewish culture and society. Strewn throughout the tractate are indications that for some early rabbis, the boundary that separates Jews from non‐Jews is no mere matter of divergent norms or descent but rather a deep ontological divide. A passage from the Tosefta illustrates the degree to which the very grounds for distinguishing between Jews and non‐Jews are unsettled for the early rabbis. In Tosefta Avodah Zarah 8: 4 (sometimes identified as 9: 4 in printed editions), we find the earliest attestation of a tradition that sets out seven Noahide commandments, a list of obligations that the rabbis understand God to have imposed on all people generations before Israel was singled out to receive a much more extensive and demanding set of covenantal obligations. The seven Noahide commandments include the charge to establish courts of justice and prohibitions of blasphemy, idolatry, sexual transgression, bloodshed, theft, and eating a limb from a living animal. As modern Jewish thinker David Novak (1983) points out, the very concept of Noahide law expresses a universalist ethic, accentuating the common institutions and experiences that Jews share with non‐Jews by virtue of being human. The Noahide laws presume that non‐Jews are capable of revering God, of establishing order and justice, and of sanctifying life and human relationships. They suggest that while the particulars of Jewish practice and belief might distinguish Jews from others, there are

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f­undamental norms that all people share. However, read just a few lines beyond the ­enumeration of the Noahide laws and one finds a stark diminishment of the non‐Jew in the Tosefta’s own gloss on what the various commandments entail. This is how the Tosefta elaborates upon the prohibitions of bloodshed and thievery: And concerning bloodshed, in what manner [is the transgressor culpable]? A non‐Jew against a non‐Jew, and a non‐Jew against a Jew is liable; a Jew against a non‐Jew is exempt. And concerning theft in what manner [is the transgressor culpable]? [In the case of] a kidnapper, a thief, [one who seizes] a beautiful [war captive], and the like: A non‐Jew against a non‐Jew, and a non‐Jew against a Jew is prohibited; a Jew against a non‐ Jew is permitted. (t. Abod. Zar. 8: 5)2

According to these stipulations, there is a double standard that privileges Jews over non‐ Jews with regard to the Noahide prohibitions of bloodshed and theft. Though both Jews and non‐Jews are prohibited from shedding blood, a Jew who kills a non‐Jew is exempt from punishment. Similarly, in the laws of theft, non‐Jews are prohibited from stealing people or things from Jews, but Jews are not prohibited from stealing from non‐Jews. In a striking departure from the universalist ethic implied by Noahide law, these comments assign non‐Jews an inferior status, undermining the very notion that Jews and non‐Jews share a common humanity. While expressions of such strident chauvinism are exceptional in tannaitic literature, they indicate fissures in the rabbinic construction of Jewish difference that persist in later rabbinic sources as well. Some scholars seek to explain divergent rabbinic attitudes about what precisely sets Jews apart by appealing to the diversity of social and political conditions in which rabbis of different times and places lived. It is reasonable to hypothesize, for example, that rabbis who lived under the relatively benign rule of the Sasanian empire in Babylonia would have developed more sympathetic views of non‐Jews than rabbis in Palestine who experienced privation and defeat under Roman rule. In fact, however, the complicated compositional histories of rabbinic sources mean that such historical arguments are difficult to make. Even when the historical context for a particular rabbinic source is relatively clear, scholars can still disagree on how to interpret rabbinic depictions of non‐Jews. These interpretive difficulties come to the fore in scholarly discussions of one particularly rich resource for investigating rabbinic constructions of Jewish difference, the dialogue stories of classic Palestinian midrash. Strewn throughout such works as Genesis Rabbah and Leviticus Rabbah, and transmitted in the two Talmuds as well, are scores of short narratives that depict exchanges between rabbinic sages and an array of personages from the non‐Jewish world. In these dialogue stories, rabbis respond to challenging questions that are put to them by a variety of figures including unnamed philosophers, Samaritans, heretics, and Roman matrons, and also by named figures like the Roman Emperor Hadrian. These dialogue stories adhere to rigid literary conventions. In most of them, the rabbinic characters address provocative questions about the nature of God or the interpretation of Scripture so effectively that they quickly win the approbation of their


Mira Beth Wasserman

non‐Jewish interlocutors; often, the rabbinic characters appeal to common sense and to everyday experience to make their case. Dialogue stories originate in a Palestinian milieu, and this leads Richard Kalmin (1999, pp. 68–74) to cite them as evidence that Palestinian rabbis were in far more regular contact with non‐Jews and non‐rabbis than were their Babylonian counterparts. He argues that the stories are polemical and that they serve to demonstrate the superiority of rabbinic culture and to neutralize the threat of rival r­ eligious ideologies. Jenny Labendz (2013) not only rejects Kalmin’s historicizing move, she interprets the dialogue stories in a way that is nearly opposite; for her, these stories demonstrate the rabbis’ openness to non‐Jewish sources of wisdom and present non‐Jews as worthy interlocutors who can participate in the production of Torah. The following dialogue story, from Genesis Rabbah 17: 7, exemplifies all the conventions of the genre and illustrates why it is so difficult to use them to construct a rabbinic theory of Jewish difference. In this story, a Roman noblewoman interrogates Rabbi Yosi ben Halafta, a third century tanna. She accuses God of being a thief, because He stole Adam’s rib, but Rabbi Yosi is quickly able to persuade her to see things differently. A [Roman] matron questioned Rabbi Yosi. She said to him: “Why through theft [was the woman created]?” He said to her: “A parable: If a person secretly gave you an ounce of silver for safekeeping, and you returned him a litra [twelve ounces] of silver in public, is that considered theft?!” She said to him: “But why in secret?” He said to her: “At first He created her [Woman] for him [Adam], and he [Adam] saw her full of mucus and blood, and he distanced her from himself. God returned and created her for a second time.” She said to him: “I can add to your words. I was supposed to be married to the brother of my mother, but since I grew up with him in the house, I grew ugly in his eyes, and he went and married another woman who is not as beautiful as I.”

This story exemplifies the genre of dialogue stories in that the rabbinic character, in this case Rabbi Yosi, is able to quickly neutralize the theological challenge posed to him by his non‐Jewish questioner. In defending the moral character of the Jewish God and of Hebrew Scripture, Rabbi Yosi appeals to reason, and makes an argument from analogy that draws on everyday experience. Like many of the dialogue stories that appear in works of aggadic midrash, this story does exegetical work, using narrative to address problems within the scriptural text. The particular exegetical problem the story resolves is not the question articulated by the noblewoman, but rather a problem that is addressed in the immediate context within Genesis Rabbah: How can the account of the simultaneous creation of male and female in Genesis 1 be reconciled with the story of Eve’s belated creation from Adam’s rib in Genesis 2? Rabbi Yosi resolves this problem by explaining that in fact there  were two separate creations of women, since the first woman of Genesis 1 was rejected by Adam. While this story is exemplary of the dialogue genre in that it presents a rabbi and a non‐ Jew engaging in a theological debate, it can be read on another level as well. As brief as it is, this conversation is rife with sexual tension, as Rabbi Yosi speaks in praise of women

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generally, and the noblewoman provocatively boasts of her own beauty. Elsewhere in ­rabbinic literature, non‐Jews are abhorred as sexual threats to Jewish community and identity; here, the matron is not depicted as dangerous, but rather as a beguiling and engaging conversation partner. There is a confluence between the identities of the interlocutors and the content of their exchange, as Rabbi Yosi and the Roman woman cross social and religious boundaries to talk frankly about gender and sexual attraction. Dramatizing a flirtation between a rabbi and a non‐Jew, this dialogue story depicts Jews and non‐Jews as interlocutors who speak the same language and share a common understanding. The story does not unambiguously ratify the scholarly position of either Kalmin or Labendz. On the one hand, the dialogue effectively neutralizes a non‐Jew’s attack on God and Scripture; on the other, it affirms a shared human experience that transcends boundaries of religion, class, and gender. To a certain degree, debates among contemporary scholars about how the rabbis ­conceived of Jewish difference reflect the way in which claims of Jewish superiority are contested within rabbinic literature itself. The diversity of rabbinic attitudes does not map on to geographic or chronological differences in any straightforward way. Turning now to the Babylonian Talmud, we will see how divergent conceptions of Jewish identity are on display within a single talmudic discussion. While limitations of space will not allow for a full re‐capitulation of the talmudic passage, by highlighting two separate lines of argumentation, I will demonstrate how a single passage juxtaposes colliding visions of what differentiates Jews from non‐Jews, and of who is considered a person.3 The talmudic discussion addresses a particularly xenophobic tradition from the Mishnah, Avodah Zarah 2: 1: We do not stable livestock in the stalls of non‐Jews because they are suspected of bestiality. And a woman should not be privately secluded with them [non‐Jews], because they are suspected of sexual transgression. And a person should not be privately secluded with them [non‐Jews], because they are suspected of bloodshed.

This mishnah both limits Jews’ interactions with non‐Jews and offers a rationale for legislating such social distance: bestiality, sexual aggression, and murder are presumed so rampant among the non‐Jewish population that non‐Jews can be likewise presumed to pursue these behaviors whenever they are given the opportunity. In the world conjured by this mishnah, Jews regard non‐Jews across a chasm of fear and suspicion. Treatment of this mishnah begins on page 22a in Tractate Avodah Zarah of the Babylonian Talmud and extends over several pages. While the discussion never explicitly engages the question of how to define Jewish difference, I would argue that a debate about the degree to which Jews and non‐Jews participate in a common humanity subtends the talmudic deliberations. At the surface level, the argumentation is propelled by an apparent contradiction between the mishnah under discussion and another tannaitic tradition, a baraita that holds that animals acquired from non‐Jews might be used in sacred ritual and are not presumed to have been subjected to bestial sex. The conflict between the two traditions seems stark: are non‐Jews under a presumptive suspicion of sleeping with animals, or not?


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Though the topic of bestiality might strike us as especially lurid, even scandalous, the talmudic editors approach this material using the well‐trod paths of talmudic discourse with which they approach all legal materials, seeking to reconcile the apparently contradictory rulings. At one point, the editors follow a false start, proposing that the mishnah reflects the opinion of Rabbi Eliezer alone and that the baraita reports the more lenient opinion of the majority. It is in this vein that they recapitulate the following story, which is attributed to Rabbi Eliezer both here (b. Abod. Zar. 23b–24a) and elsewhere in rabbinic literature (y. Peah 1: 1, 15c; y. Qidd. 1: 7, 61b; and b. Qidd. 31a). Rabbi Eliezer was once asked how far the obligation to honor one’s parents extends. In response, he told this story: A precious stone is lost from the sacred vestments of the high priest and a contingent of sages set out from the Jerusalem Temple to find a replacement. They travel to the coastal city of Ashkelon, where a non‐Jew named Dama ben Netina is known to possess just the type of gem they are seeking. The sages offer Dama an exorbitant sum, but Dama demurs. He explains that his elderly father is sleeping and the key to the jewel‐box is under his pillow. The sages will not be put off. They propose a higher sum, and then an even higher one. Still, Dama refuses to disturb his father and the sages depart empty‐handed. It is not long, however, until they have reason to return. The following year, a red heifer is born into Dama’s herd. This is a rare and momentous event— only the sacrifice of a red heifer could release Israel from impurity and sometimes generations pass without such a birth. Dama knows that there is no limit to the price his precious new calf could fetch and yet he tells the sages of Jerusalem, “I ask only for the sum that I lost for the sake of my father.” In the context of the talmudic discussion, the editors treat this colorful tale as a case study, analyzing the conditions under which Rabbi Eliezer authorized the purchase of livestock from a non‐Jew in an effort to test whether his approach indeed reflects the mishnah’s ruling. Ultimately, they jettison this line of reasoning altogether and, after a series of meticulous arguments, settle on an entirely different resolution of the conflict between tannaitic traditions. Though the Dama case proves to be irrelevant to the conundrum at hand, the extended story of Dama’s piety nonetheless functions as an implicit retort to the Mishnah’s harsh judgments of non‐Jews. One striking aspect of the talmudic narrative is the unexpected way it turns the tables, using a non‐Jewish character to exemplify virtue and depicting the Jewish characters as ethically stunted, unable to relate to others on anything but a purely transactional level. It is my sense that the talmudic dialectic here unfolds in two different registers simultaneously. At the level of the local, legal argument, Dama’s story provides evidence that is directly relevant to the halakhic issue at hand, documenting an instance in which an animal belonging to a non‐Jew was acquired for ritual sacrifice. At the same time, Dama’s story challenges the very premise of the Mishnah’s ruling, countering the presumption of non‐Jewish depravity with an alternative vision of humanity in which Jews and non‐Jews share basic values and virtues in common. The story of Dama ben Netina offers a potent example of how talmudic literature is capable of troubling the reductive discourse of “Us” versus “Them” that it inherits from the tannaim. However, the depiction of the non‐Jewish Dama as a paragon of virtue that transcends the Jewish‐gentile divide is by no means the last word on how rabbis assess the difference between Jews and non‐Jews. Elsewhere in the Babylonian Talmud’s treatment

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of this same mishnaic passage, other rabbinic voices affirm the Mishnah’s xenophobia, providing a genealogy for non‐Jewish vice that characterizes the boundary separating Jews from non‐Jews as a kind of species difference. The talmudic editors cite reports that non‐Jewish men indeed prefer sex with animals to relations with women and explain that non‐Jews’ bestial tendencies trace back to the very origins of humanity: “For as Rabbi Yoḥanan has said, ‘In the moment that the serpent came upon Eve, he left his filth within her’” (b. Abod. Zar. 22b). According to Rabbi Yoḥanan, the snake seduces Eve and copulates with her. This is a striking revision of the biblical story, in which there is no sex between Eve and the snake but only a verbal interaction in which the snake persuades Eve to transgress the divine command not to eat a certain fruit. The suggestion that Eve contracted a “filth” that is passed on through future generations resembles Christian ideas of original sin, but here the sinfulness that is transmitted takes the peculiar form of a sexual preference for non‐human animals. The insertion of primordial myth into the discussion of the mishnaic passage raises the stakes of the talmudic argument, suggesting that the depraved acts of non‐Jews should not be seen as individual lapses or even as broad‐scale failures of gentile society but rather as expressions of the essential human make‐up, an indelible stain on the human personality. Rabbi Yoḥanan’s explanation of non‐Jewish bestiality inevitably begs the question: What about the Jews? Does bestial desire afflict Jews as well as non‐Jews? Having provided an etiology that traces the bestial impulse back to the mother of all human life, this would seem to be the inescapable conclusion, and yet the editors protest that this is not the case. Reaching once again into the mythic past, they explain that the revelation at Mount Sinai neutralized the effects of Eve’s sin: “Israel, in standing at Mount Sinai, had their filth cease. Non‐Jews, who did not stand at Mount Sinai, did not have their filth cease” (b. Abod. Zar. 22b). The explicit answer to the question of how Jews escape the heritage of Eve’s filth is that the acceptance of the Torah serves as an antidote against inborn impulses to sin. Rabbi Yoḥanan’s account also raises another possibility, subtly insinuating that Jews and non‐Jews actually emerge from different stock, that non‐Jews are not the children of Adam but rather the children of the snake. According to this reading, non‐Jews are drawn to animals because they come from animals; the moral divide that separates Jews from non‐Jews reflects a difference of origins, a breach at the level of species. In stark contrast to the moral landscape conjured by Dama’s story, in this round of talmudic dialectic, the editors project a vision of humanity that is rotten at its core. This strain of rabbinic tradition constructs Jewish identity in opposition to non‐Jewish humanity in general, which is utterly and irredeemably debased. I present these two sharply contrasting visions of humanity not because either one of them is representative of a widely shared rabbinic view on non‐Jews, but rather because the collision between these two talmudic accounts is emblematic of unresolved tensions and contradictions in rabbinic culture. To a large degree, these rifts in rabbinic understanding are covered over by the moderate accommodations of rabbinic law, which permit a wide breadth of commercial interactions between Jews and non‐Jews but minimize opportunities for social relationships. The pragmatism of rabbinic law‐making allows for a wide array of ideologies about what precisely distinguishes Jews from non‐Jews and about the meaning of this distinction. Some rabbis construct Jewish identity in terms of belief and practice, while others regard non‐Jews across a chasm of difference that cannot be traversed. Some rabbis regard


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the bond of humanity as a foundation for co‐existence and co‐operation. For others, the endemic supremacy of Jews means that the distinction of being human dissolves and non‐ Jews take their place alongside animals and other creatures, a distant backdrop for Israel’s holy history. There is one thing that unifies the whole gamut of rabbinic views, however, and that is the notion that there is such a thing as a coherent Jewish identity, marked off by a boundary that clearly separates insiders from outsiders, Jews from others. Rabbis disagree on what the partition between Jews and non‐Jews consists of and precisely where it should be placed, but the very language of rabbinic discourse inscribes the exclusiveness of Jewish identity, defining Jews in opposition to all others. The Jewish–Gentile divide is by no means the only boundary that the rabbis care about; they classify people on the basis of age, gender, lineage, profession, health, ability, ritual practice, and more, but surmounting all these cross‐hatching taxonomies of difference is the primacy of Jewish difference. The boundary separating Israel from others is foremost for the rabbis because it defines the realm of authority they claim for themselves. Whether or not a wider community of Jews and others regarded rabbis as the arbiters of who and what counted as Jewish, the rabbis present themselves as the masters of the Jewish realm. One effect of the rabbis’ construction of a binary partition between Jew and goy is to conceal lines of connection that traverse the boundary between Jews and non‐Jews. Another is to minimize the significance of differences that subdivide the Jewish camp. Turning our attention now to those the rabbis regard as Other but who live within the Jewish realm, we will see that even as differences of gender and ideology strain and subvert the binary opposition between Jews and non‐Jews, Jewish difference remains paramount in rabbinic self‐understanding.

Women In rabbinic literature, the designation yisrael, or “Jew,” is not gender‐neutral. The normative standard for the rabbis is a free adult male of Jewish descent (Cohen 1999, p. 337). Rabbinic sources obscure the ways that Jewish women participate in rabbinic life and thought, even as they conceal the extent of women’s exclusion from rabbinic institutions. Since a comprehensive survey of the rabbis’ treatment of women is beyond the purview of this article, my focus here is on the salient ways in which the rabbis’ tacit ideas about gender inform their construction of Jewish identity. Gender troubles the boundary that the rabbis inscribe between Jews and non‐Jews because, while Jewish women are key actors in the propagation of Jewish identity and community, they are outsiders to the central institutions of rabbinic life—the study‐house, the rabbinic court, and communal worship. Examining how gender difference intersects with the boundary separating Jews from non‐ Jews is critical for understanding how rabbis construct their own identity in relation to others (see Alexander, Chapter 20). From the standpoint of rabbinic law, Jewish women fall between the binary categories of “us” and “them.” Like Jewish men (and unlike Gentiles), Jewish women participate in the performance of commandments and can be considered members of Israel on that basis. However, Jewish women approach commandments from a remote position, because

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their participation is mediated by men who serve as the religious authorities for their households. According to one rabbinic tradition, one should not hesitate to buy religious objects or prepared food from the wife or daughter of a rabbi because one can trust that the members of a rabbi’s household will uphold his religious standards: The wife of a rabbinic colleague is as a colleague. The daughter of a colleague is as a colleague. The slave of a colleague is as a colleague. When a colleague dies, his wife, his children, and the people of his household are presumed [to maintain the rabbi’s practice] until they give cause for suspicion. (b. Abod. Zar. 39a)

In a sense, Jewish wives and daughters are adjuncts to the commandments, rather than direct participants. The derivative nature of Jewish women’s standing in relation to Jewish law means that those who do not come under the cover of fathers or husbands inhabit an ambiguous space in rabbinic thought. Some rabbinic authorities do not extend to unmarried Jewish women even the benefit of the doubt and compare Jewish widows to ­non‐ Jews. Thus, Rav and Shmuel dispute the relative trustworthiness of Jewish widows and pagan men when it comes to basic hygiene: Rav would not drink from the house of a pagan (ʾaramaʾa). But he would drink from the house of a widow (ʾarmalta). He said: She holds onto the habits of the husband. Shmuel would not drink water from the house of a widow. He said: Having no fear of a husband, she will not cover the water. But from the house of a pagan, he would drink, for even if they are not careful about exposure, they are nonetheless careful about cleanliness. (b. Abod. Zar. 30a)

This passage uses an unusual designation for “non‐Jew”: ʾaramaʾa. The word is chosen for literary effect, because of the assonance and alliteration that link it to the Aramaic word for widow, ʾarmalta. The rabbis here treat the Jewish widow and the non‐Jewish man as a matched pair. In the absence of a husband, the very Jewishness of the Jewish woman recedes. In another passage, the rabbis explicitly compare the legal status of Jewish women to that of non‐Jewish men, deliberating over the extent of Jewish women’s participation in the covenant of Israel (b. Abod. Zar. 27a). At issue is the question of whether Jewish women may perform ritual circumcision for Jewish infants, a function that is expressly prohibited to non‐Jewish men. According to one school of thought, Jewish women are prohibited from performing circumcision, because they are not parties to the covenant of circumcision any more than non‐Jews are. According to another school of thought, however, Jewish women are permitted to perform circumcision because though they are not circumcised themselves, they are considered members of the class of people called “circumcised.” In this reading, “circumcised” is not an adjective to be taken literally, but rather an appellation that is synonymous with “Israel.” Rehearsing the differences between these two views, the Talmud demonstrates how the very language of Jewish–Gentile difference conveys the ambiguous status of Jewish women. Ironically, the moment in which the rabbis are most embracing of women in terms of practical law, affirming their membership in the Jewish people, is the very moment in which women’s otherness is most on display. In proposing that the term “circumcised” be understood as a synonym for “Israel,”


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the rabbis simultaneously affirm the inclusion of women in the Jewish people and r­ einforce maleness as the norm for Jewishness, naming the entire class of Jews after the circumcised members that only half the membership possesses. A world partitioned between the “fore‐ skinned” (ʿarelim) and the “circumcised” (mulim) is a world in which Jewish women are rendered invisible. To provide a final illustration of rabbinic ambivalence with regard to the extent of Jewish women’s Jewishness, I return to the talmudic passage examined in the last section, about the bestial tendencies of non‐Jews. We have already seen how Rabbi Yoḥanan’s re‐casting of Eve’s sin intimates that non‐Jews are a breed apart, animal‐like in their sexual proclivities, if not the actual descendants of animals. As the talmudic dialectic unfolds, it is not just non‐Jewish men who are maligned through an association with animals, but women as well—including Jewish women. First, in an effort to demonstrate that suspicion of bestiality extends to non‐Jewish women as well as to non‐Jewish men, the editors cite a prohibition against widows—Jewish widows—keeping dogs as pets, for fear that they will sleep with the animals (b. Abod. Zar. 22b). Then, the subsequent proposal that it is the covenant at Sinai that neutralizes Eve’s legacy of sin only serves to intensify the insinuation of Jewish women’s deviance, because there is a strong association between Eve and women generally in the rabbinic imagination, and because the degree to which the covenant at Sinai addresses women is unclear. Though non‐Jews are the explicit targets of the rabbis’ xenophobia, an implicit suspicion of all women suffuses the talmudic discussion. From the standpoint of this particular passage, it would seem that the problem with Jewish women is not so much that their Jewishness is in question, but rather that their personhood is. As it happens, all the discussions of Jewish wives and widows that I have gathered in this section appear in close proximity, within a single talmudic chapter of Tractate Avodah Zarah. The talmudic editors juxtapose two very different accounts of Jewish women’s status: on the one hand, a reasoned consideration of Jewish women’s (limited) legal standing and participation in Jewish religious practice and, on the other, the insinuation that Jewish women—like non‐Jews—are amoral, sexually deviant, and inexorably Other. The irreconcilability of these two views is illustrative of the way considerations of gender rupture the rabbis’ construction of Jewish difference as a binary division. These passages also demonstrate the degree to which rabbinic conceptions of women and of non‐Jews are intertwined (see also Ronis, Chapter 22). Though neither misogyny nor xenophobia is the rule in rabbinic literature, when undercurrents of both rise up in the sources, they are structured in similar ways, tinged with a debauched revulsion that degrades the other to the status of the merely animal. However, though the rabbis use similar tropes to express two strains of chauvinism, animus toward non‐Jews and animus toward women function in different ways in the construction of rabbinic identity. Women fall between the binary separation of “us” from “them” that defines Jewishness for the rabbis. While debasements of non‐Jews serve to shore up the rabbis’ sense of their own supremacy, reinforcing their sense of difference and superiority, degradations of women corrode these divisions. Accusing their own wives and mothers of the animal appetites they associate with non‐Jews, the rabbis implicate themselves in the degradations they assign to others. Though the rabbis subscribe to an ideology in which covenant, lineage, and the rule of law elevate rabbis over others, they cannot fully escape their intimacy with women, their primeval kinship with non‐Jews, or the unruliness of their own animal impulses.

Rabbis and Their Others


Non‐rabbinic Jews (ʿamey ha‐ʾaretz) Rabbinic discussions of the ʿam ha‐ʾaretz, the non‐rabbinic Jew, inscribe a boundary line on the near side of the partition that separates Jews from non‐Jews, repudiating those Jews who do not fall under rabbinic sway. Rabbinic views on the ʿam ha‐ʾaretz change over the course of history, with the later generations of Babylonian rabbis exhibiting far more resentment and suspicion than one finds in tannaitic literature or in the works of the Palestinian Amoraim. However, it is not just rabbinic attitudes about the ʿam ha‐ʾaretz that change; the very definition of who is considered an ʿam ha‐ʾaretz shifts in relation to changing cultural realities. During the tannaitic period, the rabbis were a small group of sages and disciples, with little influence beyond their circle (Schwartz 2001). During this period, the term ʿam ha‐ʾaretz is a relatively neutral label that refers to the vast majority of Jews. Later, when the rabbis consolidated their power, ʿam ha‐ʾaretz becomes a term of derision for those who resist rabbinic control. Yair Furstenberg (2013) chronicles the changing meanings of ʿam ha‐ʾaretz in the ­biblical, Second Temple, and tannaitic eras. Though the term appears in a variety of scriptural contexts, Furstenberg points out that in rabbinic literature, ʿam ha‐ʾaretz always has a negative connotation, and functions in opposition to the terms “rabbi,” ḥaver (­colleague, or fellow), and parush (Pharisee, or one who separates himself). This means that the label functions much as the term goy in that it does not describe an actual ­identity, but rather constructs another binary opposition, this one between rabbis and ethnically Jewish others. The earliest Tannaim define the ʿam ha‐ʾaretz as a Jew who is not sufficiently fastidious in observing the stringencies of purity law and prohibit contact with him on that basis. Later, however, when concern about purity declines among the Tannaim, the term ʿam ha‐ʾaretz is re‐signified, a shift that Furstenberg detects in the tannaitic passage that serves as the locus classicus for scholarly treatments of the ʿam ha‐ʾaretz, Tosefta Avodah Zarah 3: 10: And who is considered an ʿam ha‐ʾaretz? Anyone who does not eat his ordinary food in a state of purity, according to Rabbi Meir. But the sages say: Anyone who does not tithe.

What the Tosefta presents as a tannaitic dispute about the definition of the ʿam ha‐ʾaretz is for Furstenberg a record of a change in rabbinic self‐definition. When changing historical circumstances mean that purity practices no longer serve as a marker of rabbinic identity, later generations of Tannaim re‐define the ʿam ha‐ʾaretz as a Jew who is lax in separating tithes. The ʿam ha‐ʾaretz is never an identity claimed by any actual person or group, but is rather a rabbinic projection, a cipher for constructions of rabbinic identity. In every phase of rabbinic history, rabbis use the term to label those Jews who are different from themselves in ways that are most important to the rabbis at that time. Jeffrey Rubenstein (2003) picks up the thread of this story precisely where Furstenberg’s account leaves off. He notes that the meaning of ʿam ha‐ʾaretz broadens in the amoraic period when it comes to signify a wide array of lapses. The following passage from the Babylonian Talmud (b. Ber. 47b) is presented in the guise of a baraita, but as Rubenstein points out,


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there is good reason to think its attributions to Tannaim are pseudepigraphic, since this material does not appear in any work prior to this text: Our sages taught: Who is an ʿam ha‐ʾaretz? Anyone who does not recite the Shema evening and morning, these are the words of Rabbi Eliezer. Rabbi Yehoshua says: Anyone who does not put on tefilin. Ben Azzai says: Anyone who does not have a mezuza on his door and fringes on his garments. Rabbi Natan bar Yosef says: Anyone who has sons but does not devote them to Torah study. The sages say: Even if he has studied Scripture and Mishnah but does not attend upon the sages—behold, this one is an ʿam ha‐ʾaretz.

Attributing this wide array of definitions to Babylonian Amoraim, Rubenstein notes that in this phase of rabbinic culture, ʿam ha‐ʾaretz has become a catch‐all phrase for a wide range of behaviors that offend rabbinic sensibilities, from neglect of select scriptural commandments, to refusals to kowtow to rabbinic authority. The final opinion effectively designates any Jew who is not himself a rabbi or rabbinic disciple as an ʿam ha‐ʾaretz. For the Babylonian Amoraim (as interpreted by Rubenstein), a Jew can either be for the rabbis or against them, but there is no middle ground. For the Amoraim, the ʿam ha‐ʾaretz is the quintessential Jewish Other. Rabbinic attitudes toward the ʿam ha‐ʾaretz become even more extreme after the amoraic period. Drawing on the critical scholarship of Stephen Wald (2000), Rubenstein (2003) argues that the Babylonian Talmud’s most violent expressions of contempt for the ʿam ha‐ʾaretz can be attributed to the anonymous editors who succeed the Amoraim. Wald demonstrates how the anonymous editors of the Babylonian Talmud revise earlier discussions of the ʿam ha‐ʾaretz, splicing words of abuse into earlier traditions, as can be observed in the following passage (b. Pesaḥ. 49b), in which the belated editorial insertion appears in italics: Our Rabbis taught: Let a man always sell everything he has and marry the daughter of a scholar. If he does not find the daughter of a scholar, let him marry the daughter of the leaders of the generation. If he does not find the daughter of the leaders of the generation, let him marry the daughter of the heads of synagogues. If he does not find the daughter of the heads of synagogues, let him marry the daughter of supervisors of charities. If he does not find the daughter of supervisors of charities, let him marry the daughter of teachers of schoolchildren. But [let him] not [marry] the daughter of an ʿam ha‐ʾaretz, for they are repulsive, and their wives are vermin, and concerning their daughters it is said, “Cursed be he who lies with any beast” (Deut. 27: 21).4

The two redactional layers in this passage convey very different tones. In the first part, there is a strong sense of hierarchy, with scholars enjoying the highest social status, followed by communal leaders and other communal servants, but there is no expression of

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disdain toward those of lower status. In the later interpolation, the editors express a ­violent contempt for the ʿam ha‐ʾaretz, accusing his womenfolk simultaneously of being animals and of sleeping with them. This passage uses precisely the same dehumanizing tropes to denigrate the ʿam ha‐ʾaretz that other talmudic passages employ in degrading non‐Jews and women, accusing them of sexual depravity and comparing them to animals. However, the violence that the Babylonian Talmud directs toward the ʿam ha‐ʾaretz exceeds even the most hateful vilifications of non‐Jews. As the passage above continues, the rabbis extend the association with animals with a string of hyperbolic statements that go so far as to encourage murder: “It is permitted to stab an ʿam ha‐ʾaretz on Yom Kippur that falls on the Sabbath;” “it is permitted to tear an ʿam ha‐ʾaretz like a fish;” “if we did not need them for business we would kill them.” Finally, the editors make the comparison to the non‐Jew explicit: “Greater is the hatred with which the ʿamey ha‐ʾaretz hate the sages than the hatred with which the nations of the world hate the Jews” (b. Pesaḥ. 49b). In a striking projection of their own animus on to their targets, the rabbis here cast themselves as the victims rather than the exponents of hatred, expressing an antipathy toward non‐rabbinic Jews that exceeds their revulsion of non‐Jews. In this expression of rabbinic culture, the ʿam ha‐ʾaretz is no longer the quintessential Jewish Other, he is the ultimate Other, utterly vilified and debased. Kalmin (1999, pp. 27–50) associates differences in how the Palestinian and Babylonian rabbinic sources relate to the ʿam ha‐ʾaretz with the different roles that rabbis occupied in the two societies. He conjectures that Palestinian rabbis are more open to relationships with non‐rabbinic Jews because they do not command great authority and are eager for the support of other Jews. In Babylonia, the rabbis have consolidated their power and can afford to be dismissive of Jews who oppose them. Rubenstein (2003) builds on this line of analysis when he argues that outright antipathy toward non‐rabbinic Jews emerges after the Amoraic period and is a signature feature of the extreme elitism of the Babylonian Talmud’s anonymous editors. Though Rubenstein (2003, pp. 141–142) cannot fully account for the extremity of the Babylonian Talmud’s treatment of the ʿam ha‐ʾaretz, he connects the phenomenon to the Babylonian editors’ scholastic culture, to a widening gulf between the rabbinic academy and the general Jewish population, and to the promotion of Torah study over all other religious endeavors. To the degree that the ʿam ha‐ʾaretz is a cipher for rabbinic identity, the emergence of such intense revulsion signals a change in how rabbis understand themselves. Earlier generations of rabbis describe the realm of rabbinic leadership as if it is coterminous with the boundaries of Jewish society, even though they have little influence or authority over Jews outside their circle. Having ­consolidated their power, the later rabbis who shape the Babylonian Talmud construct rabbinic identity in opposition to other expressions of Jewishness. The Babylonian Talmud’s new ideology of rabbinic supremacy is built on the model of Jewish supremacy, so that even as the Babylonian rabbis repudiate the ʿam ha‐ʾaretz with a vehemence that surpasses their hatred of non‐Jews, the comparison of the ʿam ha‐ʾaretz to the goy reifies the binary opposition between Jews and others. Constraining the privileges once associated with Jewishness to a narrower circle of rabbinic elites, these Babylonian rabbis recalibrate the meaning and implications of Jewish difference. For them, ideology—the subscription to the particular set of norms and interpretations promoted by rabbis—overtakes other aspects of identity. The ascendancy of this exclusivist


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ethos should not be taken to mean, however, that the Babylonian rabbis jettison the value of descent. Rather, the born Jewish male who rejects rabbinic practice is singled out for derision because he renounces what these rabbis understand to be the special privileges and obligations of Jewish descent and gender. The ʿam ha‐ʾaretz is despised because, unlike a non‐Jew or a woman, he rejects the privileges that attend his status as a free adult Jewish male. The disparagement of the ʿam ha‐ʾaretz reinforces other hierarchies, so that rabbis emerge as the pinnacle of creation, exalted above other Jews, who are in turn exalted over other people and animals. We have seen that rabbinic literature transmits a range of attitudes toward those who live beyond the rabbinic circle. Degrading characterizations of non‐Jews are juxtaposed with intimations that there is no inexorable difference between Jews and non‐Jews. Sometimes, rabbis cast their aspersions so broadly as to take in Jewish women and non‐ rabbinic Jews alongside Gentiles. While some rabbinic traditions espouse an intense chauvinism, more often the sources regard non‐Jews, women, and ʿamey ha‐ʾaretz from the dispassionate perspective of the legal interpreter, deliberating about the prerogatives and disabilities that attend those who are excluded or who exclude themselves from the sway of rabbinic jurisdiction. Across this wide diversity of perspectives, I discern elements of a distinctive rabbinic anthropology, an outlook on what it means to be human that finds its most coherent expression in the Babylonian Talmud. According to this worldview, the human condition is largely indistinguishable from the lot of the rest of animal life; to be human is to live in the grips of fear, violence, and unrestrained impulse. There is a way some rise above this sorry state, however. The particular function of divine commandments is to elevate their adherents, separating them from a degraded, lawless, beast‐like existence. In denigrating non‐Jews and women, the rabbis do not so much deny that Jewish men are animals too, as emphasize the effectiveness of Torah and commandments in exalting Jewish men above the unruliness of human nature. I am suggesting that despite the fact that the dichotomy between Jews and non‐Jews is a feature of rabbinic language, Jewish supremacy is not a given for all rabbis, at least not for the later rabbis of the Talmud. The elaboration of laws of social and sexual segregation is a strategy for imposing differences that lodge in rabbinic language, but do not inhere in nature. In my reading, the insistence with which some rabbis pursue their denigrations of women, non‐Jews, and others is part and parcel of their self‐identification as purveyors of Torah. The rabbis see Jewish distinction as hard‐won, not to be taken for granted, and the ardor with which they assert their own superiority participates in the task of promoting Torah as the sieve that separates the wine from the dregs. The pre‐eminence that the ­rabbis claim for themselves expresses their esteem for Torah and commandments as that which separates them from the debasements of their own unruly human nature.

NOTES 1 Constraints of space will not allow us to consider other important rabbinic others, such as heretics, Christians, and Samaritans. 2 All rabbinic textual translations are the author’s unless otherwise noted.

Rabbis and Their Others


3 For a fuller treatment of this passage, see Wasserman (2017), on which this discussion is based. 4 The translation is by Jeffrey Rubenstein (2003, p. 126). His attribution of the final line to the belated interventions of anonymous talmudic editors is based on the critical analysis laid out by Stephen G. Wald (2000, pp. 221–231).

REFERENCES Cohen, Shaye J.D. (1999). Beginnings of Jewishness: Boundaries, Varieties, Uncertainties. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Furstenberg, Yair (2013). Am Ha‐Aretz in tannaitic literature and its social contexts. Zion 78 (3): 287–319. (Hebrew). Hayes, Christine E. (2002). Gentile Impurities and Jewish Identities: Intermarriage and Conversion from the Bible to the Talmud. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Hayes, Christine E. (2007). The “Other” in rabbinic literature. In: The Cambridge Companion to Talmud and Rabbinic Literature (eds. Charlotte Elisheva Fonrobert and Martin Jaffee), pp. 243–269. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Kalmin, Richard (1999). The Sage in Jewish Society of Late Antiquity. London: Routledge. Labendz, Jenny (2013). Socratic Torah: Non‐Jews in Rabbinic Intellectual Culture. New York: Oxford University Press. Novak, David (1983). The Image of the Non‐Jew in Judaism: An Historical and Constructive Study of the Noahide Laws. New York: The Edwin Mellen Press. Porton, Gary G. (1988). Goyim: Gentiles and Israelites in Mishnah‐Tosefta. Brown Judaic Studies 155. Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press. Rosen‐Zvi, Ishay and Ophir, Adi (2011). Goy: toward a genealogy. Dine Israel, 29: 69–122. Rubenstein, Jeffrey (2003). The Culture of the Babylonian Talmud. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press. Schwartz, Seth (2001). Imperialism and Jewish Society, 200 B.C.E. to 640 C.E. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Wald, Stephen G. (2000). BT Pesahim III: Critical Edition with Comprehensive Commentary. New York: Jewish Theological Seminary. (Hebrew). Wasserman, Mira Beth (2017). Jews, Gentiles, and Other Animals: The Talmud After the Humanities. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.


What is Jewish Law? Jewish Legal Culture and Thought in Antiquity (Fifth Century bce to Seventh Century ce) Natalie B. Dohrmann Introduction: What Is (and Is Not) Jewish Law? The simplest response to the question posed by the title of this essay is that Jewish law is the set of statutes enjoined upon Israel by God. Its authorization is divine and traces itself primarily back to a revelation in history at Mount Sinai as described in the Torah (Exodus 19–24 and passim). This is a skeletal definition, however, and a fuller exploration is warranted. During the period stretching from late Persian imperial control of Judaea (sixth century bce) through the rise of Islam in the seventh century of the Common Era, Jews1 lived predominately under foreign control—in both the Greco‐Roman west and the Parthian/ Sasanian east. If law is defined as the “aggregate of rules and principles of conduct which the governing power … recognizes as those it will enforce or sanction” (Cohen 1966, 1: 123) then in fact there is nearly no Jewish law in Antiquity. During this era Jews enjoyed self‐rule and the unimpeded power of governmental enforcement only under the Hasmoneans (142–67 bce), and unfortunately we have nearly nothing of actual Hasmonean law or court records with which to work outside of allusions and mentions in historical materials. Jewish self‐rule outside of Hasmonean autonomy would have been fragile, ­partial, and at the whim of the non‐Jewish state. Law, however, in a range of conceptual and terminological garbs—Torah, covenant, halakhah, mitzvot, nomos, et al.—has long been central to Jewish theology, practice, and the entire ancient Jewish imaginary. Legal thinking is manifest in a wide range of texts, doctrines, and practices. Despite common threads and concepts, Jewish law was u ­ nderstood

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differently by Jews from different groups and in different periods, and differently still when viewed from the perspective of outsiders. In practice, Jewish “law” names a set of norms and practices—some of which are defined and enforced by communal elites, others by custom from the bottom up—adherence to which expresses communal and religious membership, and deviation from which threatens inclusion in the community, however defined. Most introductions to Jewish law give an overview of the content of the laws. I need not rehearse this information here—suffice it to say that Jewish law seen together includes civil, criminal, and religious laws, that in their concerns, breadth, and complexity do not differ widely from other systems of law in the ancient world (Cohen 1966). This essay will map out (1) the foundational importance of “law” in Jewish thought, with an eye toward the significance of its various forms and defining terms in the context of the ancient world, and (2) sketch the non‐juridical function of law as cultural language in an age of foreign domination.

Laws and Jewish Law Sources Jewish legal power and Jewish legal sources exist in frustratingly inverse proportion; eras in which Jews have temporal power do not line up with the periods from which we have the richest production of legal texts. What we know of Jewish law in Antiquity is gleaned from a range of sources in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic, and includes material and textual evidence: literary, sapiential, historical, liturgical, apocalyptic, and legal. Little of what we know of Jewish law comes from actual court applications, extant contracts, or rescripts outside of what can be gleaned from literary depictions of such. What one normally imagines monolithically as “Jewish law” is a diverse collection of ideas, concepts, corpuses, and traditions. (Jewish law in its many instantiations is never immune to the influences of the neighboring culture and its laws. Tracing these influences is specialized work and must be done on a case by case basis.) Concentrated collections of laws can be found in a handful of places: the material anthologized in the Hebrew Bible, Septuagint, and versions; the works of Josephus (see Goldenberg 1978); Jubilees; Dead Sea Scrolls (e.g., Halakhic Letter [4QMMT]; Damascus Document [CD]; Community Rule [1QS]; see Shemesh 2009; Fraade 2011); and most of all in rabbinic material (esp. Mishnah [Rosen‐Zvi 2015]; Tosefta, and the two gemaras [Palestinian Talmud and Babylonian Talmud; see Albeck 2014, originally 1999]). Given the generic and functional diversity represented in the sources, they are hard to discuss as an aggregate. While “legal” in tone, thematics, and content, none of these sources is easily classified as “law” in a classical sense, but the material remains show a communal self‐understanding indelibly marked by divine law.

Key [Quasi‐] Legal Terms and Ideas: Covenant, Torah, Halakhah, Code For ancient Jews (as well as for key segments of the Israel that produced the Bible), law and legal metaphors constitute perhaps the most pervasive language used to describe their relationship to their god. The legal idea binds most of the central markers of belonging

What is Jewish Law?


and thought in a range of sources, and comes to gloss even the idea of Scripture itself. In this section I will examine four concepts that make up the legal idea in Israel and early Judaism, all of which have perdurable influences on Judaism. Three are indigenous Hebrew words (covenant/berit, torah, halakhah), while the fourth (code) is an idea that emerges from comparative analysis of ancient evidence.

(a) Covenant If Israel is “chosen,” it is to be seen primarily in her election to participate in a covenant from God. In the Pentateuch, covenant (berit) is the central term describing the special relationship between Israel and the divine (i.e., Gen. 15, 17; Exod. 19–20, 23). In most biblical iterations covenant names a binding relationship between Israel and God, and in Hellenistic times and beyond comes to epitomize the idea of the function of “Torah” writ large (1 Macc. 1; Jub. 1, 15). Covenant is a quasi‐legal term that sits at the foundation of the collective identity of a range of diverse Jewish groups in the Mediterranean basin in Antiquity. Covenant expresses a notion of obligation on the part (normally) of both contracting parties, and thus presumes space for legal statutes that Israel is expected to obey as part of the covenant. In others words, covenant is not itself Jewish (or biblical) law; it is the framework in which those laws exist. It partakes of a legal metaphorics (contract) and it significantly marks the laws’ horizon of meaning. Different Jewish communities in different times may have filled this space with different and even opposing obligations, but the macro‐structure was held in common—which is to say that while laws and normative praxes vary in time and space among Israelites or Jews, a covenantal concept remains common to them (Sanders 1992). In short, biblical Israel, and later Jews in the Persian, Hellenistic, and Talmudic eras all considered themselves to be covenantally contracted to God in some way. Covenant in biblical terms is an idea that builds from three dominant Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) genealogies; elements of each carry into post‐biblical Judaism and later Jewish legal thinking. 1. Unilateral gift‐style covenant (Abrahamic). The covenants of Noah and Abraham (e.g., Genesis 9, 15, 17) appear to derive from known ANE forms of unilateral treaties or grants between a dominant sovereign and a favored subject. In this sense the covenant is conceived as a gift marking the exceptional status of the recipient in the eyes of the sovereign (Weinfeld 1970). The grantee is understood to have earned or otherwise merited this gift, and is not henceforth obligated to do anything to keep it in perpetuity. Circumcision is one mark of this eternal covenant. 2. Bilateral treaty style covenant (Mosaic). The Mosaic covenant tradition is dominant for later Judaism. Its predominant geographic and ideological location is Sinai, and this covenantal model organizes the pentateuchal materials. Biblicists see this covenant rooted in forms of ANE international suzerain‐vassal treaties that set the terms between a dominant imperial state and a subordinate one—protection by the suzerain is expected to be repaid by obedience and absolute loyalty (Levenson 1985). These treaties are first found in second millennium Hittite materials, but the proximate influence on biblical thought and literature is the incursion of Assyrian imperial rule (eighth century bce). Central to this model for later Judaean legalism and law is its bilateralism.


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Unlike the Abrahamic model, this covenant and its promises are conditional; the ­subordinate party (Israel) is expected by the sovereign (God) to fulfill a set of fixed obligations, primary among them cultic loyalty, and God in turn is obligated to protect his people. In other words, the Mosaic covenant gives Israel agency over their own success or failure. Foreign domination is a product of failure to keep the law (Lev. 26; Deut. 28). This covenantal form makes law central not just to practice but to theology, and finally to history. Law is the mechanism through which Israel controls history. Through the lens of the Mosaic covenant model, law is the primary language with which Israel and the divine communicate, its stage is history, and among its defenders and spokes‐people are prophets. Through law, Israel comprehends God’s will. (The Mosaic bilateral contractual covenant sits at the core of rabbinic Judaism.) 3. Davidic covenant. The biblical kingdom of Judah was authorized by a divinely authorized monarchy, the paragon of which was King David. Judah’s King David was a biblical figure around which yet a third covenant model developed and is preserved in the biblical corpus (e.g., 2 Sam. 7; I Kgs. 11; Ps. 89). In this model, laws and obligations (Mosaic covenant) are important in the divine human relationship but are ultimately trumped by God’s special paternal love for Judah’s king and his scions. This love drives God’s treatment of his favored nation. In later iterations this model gets tied to both legal and counter‐legal thinking—Davidic ideology both authorizes monarchic regimes (cf. the Hasmoneans) and animates antinomian messianic eschatologies (cf. Paul). It is clear then that covenant holds a set of essential but sometimes incompatible concepts in constellation: that God’s care for Israel is perpetual and inviolable, that God’s protection is dependent on obedience, that obedience to law is a guarantor of divine protection, that Israel through the law can vanquish her enemies or be the agent of her own defeat, and that the Davidic monarchy is the ultimate fulfillment of the covenant. Evidence from a range of sources written after the Babylonian exile and under Persian and Greek rule tell us that despite the semantic range of the idea of the berit (covenant), it coalesced as a notion that defined Jewish notions of membership—an idea of covenant, that is to say, one that binds post‐biblical Jews in Antiquity, encompassing ethnicity, tradition, and a shared god. This sense of election and belonging is conceived in legal terms, and obedience to covenantal strictures, however understood, was widely accepted by Jews as central to maintenance of a strong connection to the divine. E.P. Sanders coined the phrase “covenantal nomism” to name that which tied the disparate communities of Jews of the second commonwealth together (Sanders 1992). In his phrasing we find a productive blend of theological, nationalistic, and legal thinking that nonetheless does not presume that common practice (that is, particular laws, or halakhah [on which see below] themselves) is a determinative or necessary prerequisite of a common ancient Jewishness. Covenantal nomism suggests a phenomenological evaluation of Jews in what is essentially a legal frame or paradigm, setting it at the center of both theological and historical evaluations of Jews and Judaism. That is, he understands a legal form as the clearest lens through which to see what is in fact shared, or categorically Jewish, in an age of wide variety of religious expression and praxis. That said, covenantalism as such tells us rather little about Jewish law itself—and how it imagines such vital cognates as sovereignty, community, and the scope and content of the law.

What is Jewish Law?


(b) Torah Torah is a Hebrew word with a wide range of meanings in early Judaism, among them the Pentateuch and also the laws that make it, the written Scripture in toto, and for the rabbis it also includes the Oral Torah (on that see below). Torah also seems to name that to which Jews are devoted (one might choose to die for Torah), and whatever set of practices that a given Jewish community follows. It is the curriculum of study and a way to structure one’s life. In short, it is a hard term to define out of context. In conceptual terms, however, as absorbed into Hellenistic and Roman era Judaism, Torah theology highlights the distinctly legal tint of much early Jewish religiosity. Nearly all the Jewish communities in Antiquity defined themselves in a relationship to a set of prescriptions and proscriptions that distinguished them from their neighbors. In national terms we find this “torah” referred to vaguely but suggestively as “ancestral laws” (Josephus’s patrioi nomoi, i.e., Ant. 11.338; 17.148). However, the scale of early Jewish “legal” jurisdiction, as depicted in the historical and literary materials, is limited to behaviors that seem to define or stand symbolically for the idea of torah/covenant/peoplehood, and which cluster most consistently around a short list of culturally significant practices: diet, purity, circumcision, Sabbath, and calendar. That said, though we have scant literary evidence, some Jewish groups appear to have developed and followed complex long‐form legal lives understood to be based on Torah: the rabbis predominantly, but also the priestly classes, the Qumran sectarians, the Hasidim, some portion of the Alexandrian Jewish community, and certainly others about whom we have little or no textual remains. For certain other Jews, their sense of legal obligations was more attenuated (Schwartz 2001).

(c) Halakhah Halakhah (from the Hebrew verb halakh, to go or walk), though often translated as “Jewish law,” is more accurately understood to mean rules guiding right action and pious living. As an overarching concept “halakhah” avoids the problem of sovereignty and enforcement, which precludes so much of what looks like Jewish law from the category. Halakhah is more comfortably described as Jewish normativity—the set of norms through which a given community of Jews live their Jewish lives. Norms are not laws in a technical sense, and to the extent that they bind, do so according to a different set of social and institutional mechanisms than do law. This is not to say that halakhic norms cannot be specific and rigorous and function as binding on members of a community, from which exclusion would be experienced as an onerous punishment.

(d) Code Like the two terms above, code names a quasi‐legal entity that nonetheless contributes in important ways to the question of “Jewish law.” The “Covenant Code” is a name applied by scholars to the laws enumerated in the book of Exodus 20–24 following Revelation. This is a rather broad list that includes what we might recognize as civil, criminal, and religious regulation. Biblical law codes, like other ANE codes, were unlike modern codes. Unlike the terms covenant, Torah, and halakhah, code is not an indigenous category. It is


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nonetheless a useful one because understanding how law codes operated in the era in which the Torah was composed provides another angle on how Judaism binds the legal into the religious even when the laws themselves are nonfunctioning in juridical terms. The laws enumerated in Exodus, and by ritual extension the rest of the Sinai revelation preserved in the Pentateuch, immediately become central to the people of Israel, and their importance is underscored in the biblical narrative by a range of ritual acts. In the biblical text we see the ordinances written down in a variety of media (tablet, scroll, plaster, stone); set inside the holy of holies in the Temple/tabernacle (Deut. 10) and inside amulets (e.g., Deut. 6, 11), it is displayed in public inscriptions and is recited ritually and liturgically (e.g., Deut. 27, Josh. 8, Neh. 8). It is worth noting that as depicted by the biblical narrative, the revealed law is shown primarily in cultic‐national performances and settings and not in courts. Though Exodus 24 describes a system of courts using the revealed law, comparative evidence from the Persian period tells us that not only would the Pentateuch’s law not have been applied qua statute or seen as binding by judges in courts in the biblical or post‐biblical eras, the statutes collected in these symbolic codes were not intended to be so used (Fried 2001). We know this through comparative examination between biblical legal codes and close parallels among ANE texts (Westbrook 1985), most famous among them being the ancient Code of Hammurabi (eighteenth century bce). How then did such codes of law function? From the Persian period in the sixth–fourth centuries bce, the era in which the bulk of the Hebrew Bible was compiled/composed, we have both preserved law codes and the luxury of extant court documents (largely from Persian Egypt) that show us how judges ruled and on what authority. From these contemporary court documents we find that working judges “would not have judged according to a law code—the law collections were not codes in the modern sense. Rather, they would have made their decisions according to their socially constructed concepts of right, fairness, and justice” (Fried 2001, p. 88). Their authority derived not from texts but from their office and its state backing. Thus the biblical law lists do not preserve court happenings, nor would they have directed the application of actual quotidian adjudication. The codes had a different function—law codes like those we find in the Pentateuch were tools of political rule. A monarch could extend his sovereignty through ritual presentations of his law; it expressed his rule even in his absence or at a distance from the center of government. This helps explain the regular public recitation of long treaties and codes in the ancient world, and the erection of stelae and inscriptions of complex legal codes across territory—an especially odd practice when the intended subjects were for the most part illiterate. Even when its writing was illegible to its intended audience, law codes communicated the power, justice, and pervasive presence of both the political order and the holy order that authorized it. For imperial subjects, ceremonial codes reinforced imperial or monarchical concern for the citizenry. As absorbed into Jewish materials then, we find that the code functioned to solidify the people around ethical and ethnic core values, to communicate that the world is ordered, and, more importantly, that God is just, and concerned with every aspect of life. Beginning from this evidence, then, it becomes clear that for Jews, depicting or enacting the ritual inscription, memorization, recitation, and deposit of the law assures the receiver that God’s authority is absolute, and that his concern, care, and justice are proximate and reliable (see also Alexander, Chapter 20).

What is Jewish Law?


A final aspect of the biblical use of the law code is its scholastic genealogy. It has long been recognized that the casuistic form and central concerns of the biblical laws share many features in common with neighboring codes (Westbrook 1985). Areas of common everyday law we should expect to be robustly represented in these oft‐copied lists are surprisingly anemic (such as marriage law, testate law, Sabbath particulars), while obscure cases are preserved (the case of a miscarriage caused collaterally in a fight), giving clues as to the academic and or theological intent of the codes. Legal study was a core component of scholastic education, and the codes preserve a conservative corpus of materials through which elites were trained to think and rule (see well‐known shared motifs connecting the Exodus Covenant Code and the Code of Hammurabi; Fried 2001). In sum, the great legal collections in the Bible do not primarily preserve laws that functioned directly in the legal lives of Israelites or Judaeans. These laws nonetheless would have been central to the maintenance of communal identity. To the extent that judges were Jews (and in Antiquity this primarily means in foreign courts, but also in less formal Jewish arbitrational venues), the law would have instantiated a set of ethical norms and priorities that would have shaped their world view and de facto inflected their decisions; religiously the law assured the Jews of God’s care and academically the law set reverence for the divine order at the core of how the culture fashioned its elite—even as Jews were beholden to law imposed from without.

Law as Extra‐Juridical Discourse Norms Without the power of enforcement, adherence to Halakhah depended on communal norms and group approbation. From the literary remains of the Second Temple period, we can gather the obligations around which Jewish communal identity seemed to have coalesced; Sabbath (Jubilees), diet (Daniel; Aristeas), purity (1QS), calendration/festival observance (Jubilees, 4Q325), and circumcision (1 Macc.) are the norms that most prominently figured in the literary sources. Observance of said norms, it must be stressed, did as much to divide Jewish groups from one another as it did to assert Jewish identity collectively in the face of a non‐Jewish world. Indeed, sectarian rancor and legal disagreements were often coterminous. These sketchy allusions to normative behavior changed with the rabbis. These legal scholastics leave us, for the first time, a record of a broad and detailed range of legal pre‐ and proscriptions that cover all areas of civic, religious, cultic, and ethical life. Important traditional communal norms are generally passed on without need for inscription. One need not have read tractate Shabbat, for example, to know how to observe the Sabbath. Thus while Second Temple literary sources give us little legal detail (we have close to no knowledge of the particulars of normative practice), we can assume that where we know that people, for example, kept dietary laws and Sabbath traditions, there were complex understandings of what and how to do so, even if such directives were carried forward orally and in practice only. From the rabbinic era, we do have detailed depictions of how, when, and where communal norms were to occur, but such sources


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pose their own inverse challenges: reading a thickly drawn prescriptive text such as Mishnah Niddah, the laws covering menstrual impurity, for example, may tell us precious little about how purity laws were lived and enforced in daily life.

Legal Discourse in Cultural Context: Case Studies If Jews did not have sovereignty through most of their history between the appearance of the Persians and the rise of Islam (and indeed far beyond) why, one must ask, does such a robust legal tradition develop and have such staying power? The rest of this essay will explore the ways that law functioned in ancient Judaism as an extra‐judicial discourse—which is to say, even when it was not connected to the legal institutions such as courts, governments, and state‐backed enforcement. Beyond naming the collective guidelines for Jewish communal and religious life, we can look at “law” as a language through and with which Jews expressed their ties to God and negotiated their relationship with the world around them. The three case examples below help to show the range of ways that law operated as a Jewish idiom under foreign rule. These examples are not meant to be exhaustive, merely to demonstrate the flexibility of law as an idea and ideal applied in a range of modalities. The three paradigms below are broad stroke, but meant heuristically to focus on law as a particularly Jewish fulcrum of cultural mediation in several keys: confrontation, coexistence, and translation.

(a) Confrontation: Freedom to Obey God (1 Maccabees, Josephus, Dead Sea Scrolls) The Roman‐Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (first century ce) was a first‐hand witness to the Jewish rebellion against Rome in 66–73 ce. Though disdainful of the Jews who fostered and led the rebellion, one can read past his polemical dismissal and find among the rebel groups Jews for whom Jewish law was a potent symbol and political catalyst. The leaders of the rebellion—among them, for example, a group called Zealots—were inspired not only by the disintegration of the political economic and social order in first–century Judaea but also by certain ideologies. Such ideologies were made up of several elements: the special status implied by the Abrahamic promise; the causal efficacy of the Mosaic covenant (obedience stabilizes history and secures peace); a drive to regain lost Davidic and Hasmonean sovereignty; a theology that asserts that Jews should be subordinate to no power but God; and apocalyptic and messianic ideas (cf. Josephus, J.W., 2.223–264). It is in this volatile sectarian context that Jewish “law” operated symbolically. Slights to God’s role as lawgiver, such as the exaction of taxes, transgressions of the Sabbath, or disruption in sacrifice, became tinder for rebellion. It is entirely consistent, therefore, that where Rome transgressed what these Jewish subjects understood to be a law more binding than the emperor’s, or when Jews bowed to said emperor at God’s expense, that these Jews rose to shake off the imperial yoke. Josephus’s Zealots set divine law at the inviolable boundary of Jewish identity. For them it seems that Jewish law contains the seed of political autonomy. A century earlier, the Hasmonean dynasty tells its story with a similar theme. 1 Maccabees glosses Hasmonean heroism as defense of the law. The Greeks, the text reports, suspended extant Jewish legal

What is Jewish Law?


autonomy, tore up scrolls of the law, and disrupted Jewish rites, in particular prohibiting Sabbath, sacrifice, and circumcision—all to force Jews to “forget the law” and “change all the ordinances” (1 Macc. 1–2; cf. Jos., J.W. 1.1–37; 2 Macc. 6–7). These transgressions unified the people behind the Hasmonean generals who ultimately gained for them ­political independence. As above, law frames history as a conflict of incommensurable authorities (human and divine) who claim overlapping and incompatible jurisdictions— the stakes are high and the logic of this position says that the true Jew understands their law to demand confrontation over transgression. In the Dead Sea library of the community of sectarians at Qumran we find a rather extreme cousin of the law as confrontation model. These priestly separatists lived lives of rigid asceticism structured on a sense of the immanent eschaton. Law appears in the documents at Qumran in a few guises: as scriptural texts (they had several copies each of Deuteronomy, Leviticus, and Exodus), as the community’s own rules (i.e., 1QS), and the constitution of the eschaton (Fraade 2011; Shemesh 2009). The end of days is the frame connecting all three. As in other contexts, Jewish law solidifies and patrols the borders of group membership, directs its members’ action toward God, and will shield the group from the devastations of the end times. It partakes of a set of legal and covenantal logics in common with the Zealots and shares their intolerance for foreign domination, but without the same realpolitik aspirations. Sectarian legalism directs its violent wrath to the end of the world as we know it (1QM).

(b) Coexistence: Mimicry and (Apolitical) Resistance: Rabbinic Halakhah The earliest rabbis were a small group of intellectual and judicial elite who emerged in the second century ce, after the fall of the Second Temple (70 ce) and failure of the Bar Kokhbah revolt (135 ce). Having seen the devastation of two rebellions against Rome, the rabbis interpreted the law apolitically, to preserve the peace. Though subject to Roman law and jurisdiction in all but what the Romans deemed “religious” law” (cf. Cod. theod. 2.1.10), these legal experts nonetheless developed a fully articulated and radical new program of Jewish life built around the study and detailed articulation of God’s law. Though there is evidence that some rabbis were sympathetic to Bar Kokhbah, the literature as a whole is committed to peaceful coexistence with Rome (i.e., m. ‘Abod. Zar. 3.4; b. Shab. 21b; Abot R. Nat. A 4). In the writings of the rabbis, law is the dominant discourse and religious language— eclipsing history, extended narrative, and other genres—and legal expertise is presented as the most valued form of religious knowledge. Rabbinic literature (i.e., Mishnah, midrash, and gemara, which become the canon of normative Judaism from the Middle Ages and forward) distinguishes itself from antecedent Jewish literature precisely in its legality. Though nonlegal (aggadic) writing and knowing exist, legal knowledge is the privileged form of religious knowledge, where the legal expert supplants other types of holy men—most pointedly, priests and prophets. For the rabbis, the law is revealed by God and manifests in written Scripture, inherited tradition, and, significantly, a second Oral Torah  communicated directly on Sinai to Moses alongside the Written Torah. The ­rabbinic guild asserts itself as the keepers of the Oral Torah and through it the Written


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Torah (Jaffee 2001). The rabbis, in short, position themselves as privileged brokers of Torah, the preferred interpreters of God’s will to Israel. It is not accidental that the emergence of rabbinic legal scholasticism tracks the expansion and tenor of Roman authority in the East (Dohrmann 2013). Law and justice were powerful Roman imperial exports in the form of courts and systems of edicts and rescripts widely accessed by provincials, in the status of jurists, and in Roman propaganda, which sold the emperor on a message of peace backed by justice (Ando 2000; Peachin 1996; Gleason 2006). Palestinian Jews knew Roman legal process and content (Lieberman 1944; Tropper 2005; Furstenberg 2018), and the rabbis strove to exert their authority over a Jewish population that seemed to favor Roman courts over rabbinic (arbitrational) venues (Cohen 1992; Lapin 2012). In adopting law as a dominant religious idiom, the rabbis absorb a powerful Roman argot of power, order and divine/imperial care (Dohrmann 2013; Hezser 2003, 2007). They model themselves as a Jewish jurist class, with the privileges that the role affords them vis‐à‐vis access to the lawgiver—in their case not the emperor but the God of Israel. However, this imitation is only partial. On the one hand, while broad in its jurisdictional claims (civil and criminal law, as well as what the Romans deem “religious” law), rabbinic Halakhah does not include a coherent political law, a hint that it presumes that “government” is extra‐rabbinic (cf. m. Sanh. 2). More subtly, by highlighting Torah as law in an age without manifest sovereignty, the rabbis symbolically subordinate the imperium of Rome to the imperium of Torah. Rabbinic Halakhah reinforces Jewish difference (Hayes 2015) and draws careful boundaries around Jewish belonging. In making their world a halakhic world, the rabbis create a counter nomos. However, unlike the Qumran sectarians or Zealots, they interpret covenant so as to avoid directly confronting Roman rule. The rabbis construct a shadow realm that operates under Torah and as Jewish. “Law” in this guise prioritizes a set of powerful norms expressing a theology of resistance and model of cultural, and not political, recusal (Schwartz 2009; Dohrmann 2015), without forcing rebellion against the current political order. It has proved over time to be a resilient model, permitting Jewish communities to thrive under a range of temporal governments.

(c) Translation: Hellenism and the Law (Aristeas and Philo) Coexistence is differently effected by certain Greek‐speaking Jews in Antiquity who use Jewish law as another form of cultural lever. Distinct from the rabbis for whom law carves a space of cultural resistance (but political acquiescence), one strain of Greco‐Jewish thought treats Torah law as a way to affiliate with the dominant culture. Halakhah, according to these sources, appears to separate Jews from Gentiles only when understood superficially. Better read, Jewish law is a Jewish paideia or curriculum, which makes of its adherent an ideal human—a teleology it shares in common with Greek philosophical and ethical aims for their own paideia. Put differently, law creates the ideal Jew who is in fact the exemplar of the universal human. Halakhah here confirms cultural similarity; at their most refined, Torah and Greek thought converge. For the Jewish author of the Greek Letter of Aristeas (second century bce) and in a similar way the works of Philo of Alexandria (first century bce to first century ce; e.g., De Vita Mosis; Legum Allegoriae; De Specialibus

What is Jewish Law?


Legibus), the particularity of Jewish law is a bridge to the dominant culture. For them, Torah law is as a discourse that straddles the ethical, political, and philosophical, and allegory is the primary mechanism of this cultural translation and assimilation (Gruen 1998, 2013). Jewish law, in this model, is superior to Greek law only in that it better accomplishes the aims that the two cultures share in common.

Conclusion As I hope is by now clear, “law” in the early Jewish imaginary is as pervasive as it is elusive. There is certainly evidence that provincial law made room for some legal autonomy of the ethnic populations and further that imperial law used an admixture of local and central norms (Cotton 2013; Katzoff 2007; Ando 2011). However, this essay has not looked at how Jewish legal ideas are manifest in actual law. Instead, it has explored the tension between a tradition that has organized itself around a discourse that was created to express temporal power and sovereignty—but has been forced to express itself in a world without either. The tension has been productive and for ancient Jews legal thinking borrows from the full semantic range implied and affiliated with Law to define a particular Jewish identity and theology, both within, beyond, and in direct confrontation with the state and in line with God.

NOTE 1 For the sake of convenience, “Jew” and “Jewish” cover many different communities, all who claim descent or relation to Israel, the Land, and/or the People or Judaea in Late Antiquity. For more on how these terms are used see Furstenberg, Chapter 11. For more about the various literatures discussed in this chapter see Mroczek, Chapter 5 and Bar‐Asher Siegal, Chapter 6.

REFERENCES Albeck, Shalom (2014, Hebrew original 1999). Introduction to Jewish Law in Talmudic Times. Ramat Gan: Bar‐Ilan University Press. Ando, Clifford (2000). Imperial Ideology and Provincial Loyalty in the Roman Empire. Berkeley: University of California Press. Ando, Clifford (2011). Law, Language, and Empire in the Roman Tradition. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press. Cohen, Boaz (2018, orig. 1966). Jewish and Roman Law: A Comparative Study. Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press. Cohen, Shaye J.D. (1992). The place of the rabbi in Jewish society of the second century. In: The Galilee in Late Antiquity (ed. Lee I. Levine), 157–173. New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Cotton, Hannah (2013). Change in continuity in late legal papyri from Palaestina Tertia: Nomos Hellênikos and Ethos Rômaikon. In: Jews, Christians, and the Roman


Natalie B. Dohrmann

Empire: The Poetics of Power in Late Antiquity (eds. Natalie B. Dohrmann and Annette Yoshiko Reed), 209–221. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press. Dohrmann, Natalie B. (2013). Law and imperial idioms: genre and the hegemony of Jewish law. In: Jews, Christians, and the Roman Empire: The Poetics of Power in Late Antiquity (eds. Natalie B. Dohrmann and Annette Yoshiko Reed), 63–78. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press. Dohrmann, Natalie B. (2015). Can “law” be private? The mixed message of rabbinic oral law. In: Public and Private in Ancient Mediterranean Law and Religion (eds. Clifford Ando and Jörg Rüpke). Religionsgeschichtliche Versuche und Vorarbeiten 65. Berlin: de Gruyter. Fraade, Steven (2011). Legal Fictions: Law and Narrative in the Discursive Worlds of Ancient Jewish Sectarians and Sages. Leiden: Brill. Fried, Lisbeth S. (2001). You shall appoint judges: Ezra’s mission and the rescript of Artaxerxes. In: Persia and Torah: The Theory of Imperial Authorization of the Pentateuch (ed. James W. Watts), 63–89. Atlanta, GA: Society for Biblical Literature. Furstenberg, Yair (2018). The rabbis and the Roman citizenship model: the case of the Samaritans. In: Citizenship(s) and Self‐Definition(s) in the Roman Empire: Roman, Greek, Jewish and Christian Perspectives (eds. Katell Berthelot and Jonathan Price), 181–216. Leuven: Peeters. Gleason, Maud W. (2006). Greek cities under Roman rule. In: A Companion to the Roman Empire (ed. David S. Potter), 228–249. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing. Goldenberg, David (1978). Halakhah in Josephus. PhD dissertation. Philadelphia, PA. Gruen, Erich (1998). Heritage and Hellenism: The Reinvention of Jewish Tradition. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Gruen, Erich (2013). The Letter of Aristeas. In: Outside the Bible: Ancient Jewish Writings Related to Scripture (eds. Louis Feldman, James Kugel, and Lawrence Schiffman), 2711–2768. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press. Hayes, Christine (2015). What’s Divine about Divine Law? Early Perspectives. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Hezser, Catherine (ed.) (2003). Rabbinic Law in Its Roman and Near Eastern Context. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. Hezser, Catherine (2007). Roman law and rabbinic legal composition. In: The Cambridge Companion to the Talmud and Rabbinic Literature (eds. Charolotte E. Fonrobert and Martin S. Jaffee), 144–164. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Jaffee, Martin (2001). Torah in the Mouth: Writing and Oral Tradition in Palestinian Judaism 200 BCE–400 CE. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Katzoff, Ranon (2007). P. Yadin 21 and rabbinic law on widows’ rights. Jewish Quarterly Review 97 (4): 545–575. Lapin, Hayim (2012). Rabbis as Romans: The Rabbinic Movement in Palestine, 100–400 CE. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Levenson, Jon D. (1985). Sinai and Zion: An Entry into the Jewish Bible. New York: HarperCollins. Lieberman, Saul (1944). Roman legal institutions in early rabbinics and in the Acta Martyrum. Jewish Quarterly Review 35 (1): 1–57.

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Peachin, Michael (1996). Iudex vice Caesaris: Deputy Emperors and the Administration of Justice during the Principate. Stuttgart: F. Steiner. Rosen‐Zvi, Ishay (2015). Mishnah. In: The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Law (ed. Brent A. Strawn). Oxford: Oxford University Press. Sanders, E.P. (1992). Judaism: Practice and Belief 63 BCE–66 CE. London: SCM Press. Schwartz, Seth (2001). Imperialism and Jewish Society, 200 BCE–640 CE. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Schwartz, Seth (2009). Were the Jews a Mediterranean Society? Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Shemesh, Aharon (2009). Halakhah in the Making: The Development of Jewish Law from Qumran to the Rabbis. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Tropper, Amram (2005). Roman contexts in Jewish texts: on Diatagma and Prostagma in rabbinic literature. Jewish Quarterly Review 95 (2): 207–227. Weinfeld, Moshe (1970). The covenant of grant in the Old Testament and the ancient Near East. Journal of the American Oriental Society 90 (2): 184–203. Westbrook, Raymond (1985). Biblical and cuneiform law codes. Revue Biblique 92: 247–264.


Arabian Judaism at the Advent of Islam: A Forgotten Chapter in the History of Judaism Aaron W. Hughes Introduction There exists an inherited narrative that goes something like the following: Jews were ­present in the Arabian Peninsula at the time of Muḥammad and their religious ideas helped give form to the fledgling religion of Islam. This narrative works with a number of problematic and often unchecked assumptions that include: (1) that we know who these Arabian Jews actually were and just what type of Judaism they practiced; (2) that we com­ prehend the nature of the contact between these Jews and the earliest Muslims; and (3) that we can somehow show the interconnection between the Qurʾān and the religious ideas that circulated among these Arabian Jews and others. The fact of the matter, how­ ever, is that we currently understand very little of any of this on account of both the pau­ city of sources, the overlooking of other sources, and the excesses of Orientalism. The result is that these Jewish communities on the Arabian Peninsula pose a number of intractable problems to the researcher. Despite the fact that they had political auto­ nomy, evident in the Ḥimyar kingdom of South Arabia, they rarely figure in our narratives documenting the history of late antique Jews and Judaism (see, for example, the omis­ sion in the otherwise excellent work by Schäfer (1995). Despite the proximity of the Arabian Peninsula to Palestine, both at the time of the Second Temple period and to centers of Jewish life and learning there after its destruction, these Arabian Jews remain an enigma. Basic and fundamental questions remain. Who, for example, were they? Where did they come from? Perhaps most importantly, what kind of Judaism did they believe in or practice? While their rulers seem to have regarded themselves as Jewish and external sources (both coeval and subsequent) refer to the kingdom using this locution,

A Companion to Late Ancient Jews and Judaism: Third Century bce to Seventh Century ce, First Edition. Edited by Naomi Koltun-Fromm and Gwynn Kessler. © 2020 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published 2020 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


Aaron W. Hughes

what exactly Judaism meant on the Arabian Peninsula in the fourth to sixth centuries ce, the period of the Ḥimyarite kingdom and its control over most of Arabia, is anything but clear. These Jews, however, were not a monolith. It is thus important to distinguish between different groups on the Peninsula, which may or may not be connected to different types of Judaism. Within this context there existed at least two distinct communities—with different languages, scripts, and social organizations—and it is still not entirely clear what their relationship was to one another. One group, to be discussed in greater detail below, lived in the Ḥ ijāz, that is the western part of the Peninsula (and that would have included the oases of Mecca and Medina). Tradition has it that some or all of these Jews were the descendants of those who fled Jerusalem after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 ce (see Gil 1984), but there are problems with this. Many north Arabian inscriptions associated with these Jews, as Robin (2004, 2015) duly notes, lack any Jewish liturgical formulae or explicit symbols (see, also, Healey 1993). Moreover, the later Muslim gene­ alogist Ibn Kalbī (737–819) mentions that Jews of Medina married polytheists from the tribe of Quraysh in Mecca (the tribe from which Muḥammad came). This would seem to contradict the notion, based on other later sources and echoed by some modern scholars such as Newby (1988) and Mazuz (2014), that these Medinese Jews represented a priestly oasis where Jewish elites assembled in the aftermath of the destruction of the Second Temple. We also know that there existed Jewish communities in South Arabia, also to be dis­ cussed below, which formed the nucleus of the Ḥimyarite kingdom (Moburg 1924; Aharoni 1986; Nebes 2010). However, as we shall see, their Jewish bona fides are difficult to determine with any degree of certainty. Some claim that they derived from Jewish exiles from Jerusalem, that they were autochthonous South Arabian clans who had converted to Judaism (e.g., see Bowersock 2013), or that they professed some form of monotheism that to others—and perhaps to themselves—only resembled Judaism or what they thought Judaism to be (Beeston 1984a, 1984b; Gajda 2009, 2010). There exist numerous inscrip­ tions and graffiti (in Hebrew, Arabic, Nabatean, and Sabaic) from South Arabia that refer, for example, to Jews, but with non‐Jewish sounding patronyms. Once again, however, we have very little idea of the contents or contours of this “Judaism.” On the one hand we can proclaim that their Jewishness was insignificant and that it ought to suffice that they imagined themselves as Jewish. While I have no problem with this, left uninterrogated is the diversity and fluidity of Judaism as a marker of identity in this period. Moreover, Jewish history does not seem to know what to do with a “Jewish kingdom” that had political autonomy between the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 ce and the forma­ tion of the State of Israel in 1948. There are, to be sure, a number of problems that beset those trying to reconstruct Jewish life on the Arabian Peninsula in Late Antiquity. What we know about these Jews is based, as we have seen, on epigraphical evidence, graffiti, contemporaneous external sources, and later Muslim sources, all of which are potentially problematic. Surprisingly, or perhaps tellingly, neither the Mishnah nor the Talmud makes much mention of them. This could be because the rabbis associated with such texts did not consider them Jewish or at least normatively Jewish or, and perhaps less likely, they did not know what to do with Jews with political power in the aftermath of the Bar Kokhba Revolt.

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Most of the ancient north Arabian inscriptions are undated by their writers and thus very difficult to date with any degree of certainty (Lindstedt 2018, p. 160). Ancient South Arabian inscriptions, to be discussed shortly, are easier to date and seem to have been writ­ ten until at least the sixth century ce (e.g., Healey 1993; Abu l‐Ḥasan 1997; Ghabban et al. 2010), when all these languages were gradually replaced by Arabic, the language associated with the rise of Islam (Nebes and Stein 2008, pp. 145–147). We also possess Muslim sources that recount these social groups. However, they are also problematic since they date from the early Muslim period, were written well after the fact and in more cos­ mopolitan environments, and presumably their authors had contact with more discrete if not more normative Jewish populations, which they may well have projected back on to the pre‐Islamic period and in such a way that the “Jew” becomes a trope for stubbornness or resistance to Muḥammad’s prophetic call. While such retrojection may well tell us what later Muslims thought about Jews and Judaism, it unfortunately offers little as to their actual contours (Wasserstrom 1995; Schoeler 2011). We must write the history of Arabian Judaism, in other words, not from the traditional sources of normative Judaism, but from inscriptions and non‐Jewish sources. Despite the confidences of some (e.g., Mazuz, Newby, and Bowersock), we have no evidence that these Jews possessed what would be slowly emerging as normative rabbinic writings. Despite the various textual and historical lacunae that these Jewish communities pre­ sent, they are significant and stand at the crossroads of two much larger sets of issues. The first is ascertaining their relationship to other species of late antique Jewry. How, in other words, did various types of Judaism make inroads into places like the Arabian Peninsula? Did such groups proselytize local inhabitants? And, just as importantly, how did Judaism fit within the larger political struggles between the Byzantine and Sasanian Empires, both of which sought vassal tribes among the Arabs? Did Jews do the same? The second major issue and importance for these Jews involves figuring out their role within the larger con­ text of the rise of Islam (see Hughes 2020). Did the Ḥimyarites represent an amalgam­ ation of local autochthonous monotheistic claims that could have been legitimated by some kind of proximity to (some type) of Judaism? Did Islam emerge as some local Arabizing version of Judaism? Yet, for some reason, these Jewish communities of the Arabian Peninsula are surpris­ ingly overlooked or were just assumed to be normative. In what follows, I suggest we overlook them at our peril. Indeed, an examination of these Jews reveals acutely some of the larger problems associated with mapping Judaism in Late Antiquity. This is in keeping with our basic narrative in Jewish studies that has tended to focus on centers as opposed to margins, on normativity as opposed to heterodoxy, and on the consolidation of rabbinic Judaism at the expense of those groups that were responsible for such consolida­ tion in the first place (see Burns, Chapter 14). If anything, these Arabian Jews teach us to be cautious of assuming an orthodoxy of stable Jewish identity and practice based upon what the rabbinic academies of Babylonia were producing at this time. What “Arab Jewishness” consisted of, in other words, might have looked considerably different from other forms of Jewishness in the larger context of the Mediterranean basin. In what follows I want to focus on the identity of these Arabian Jews with an eye toward problematizing the category “Jew” and “Judaism” in Late Antiquity.


Aaron W. Hughes

Arabian Jews in the Historiographical Tradition It is strange that we ignore these Jewish communities, especially since one of the main narratives of Jewish studies is that Judaism functioned as the “midwife” to the birth of Islam, just as it had to Christianity several centuries earlier. Bernard Lewis, an outlier to this tradition, says of these “Arabian Jews” that they “were of no great importance in Jewish history and are virtually unknown to Jewish historiography” (Lewis 1984, p. 74). While he may well be correct with the latter assessment, the former does not necessarily follow from it. If and when Jewish studies have bothered to include these Jews, it con­ structs them as ­normative—something that Lewis himself subsequently does—and as responsible for providing Muḥammad with the raw materials to imagine a new religion of monotheism (e.g., Geiger 1970 (original 1833); Graetz 1955 (original 1853); Katsh 1954; Goitein 1955; and more recently Mazuz 2014). Implicit in this imagining is the assumption that the monotheistic prowess of the Jews, on the one hand, combined with Arabian simplicity (or simple‐mindedness), on the other, was responsible for the emer­ gence of Islam. This narrative accounts for much late‐nineteenth and twentieth-century Orientalist speculation about the origin of the Qur’ān and early Islam. This narrative, however, is premised on the problematic assertion, as I shall demon­ strate below, that Judaism at this time and in this geographic region was something stable, fully articulated, and well defined. Jews are imagined as shaping Islam, and the Qur’ān not infrequently, in this literature is imagined as simply recycling midrashim and other Jewish genres of the period (see, even, Kugel 1994). It is a model, however, that always assumes that the influence moves in one direction. According to Graetz, for example: In consequence of their Semitic descent, the Jews of Arabia possessed many points of similar­ ity with the primitive inhabitants of the country. Their language was closely related to Arabic, and their customs, except those that had been produced by their religion, were not different from those of the sons of Arabia. The Jews became, therefore, so thoroughly Arabic that they were distinguished from the natives of the country only by their religious belief. (Graetz 1955 (original 1853), p. 56)

Graetz here assumes that these Jews were religiously and presumably ethnically normative. They may have been Arabs on the outside, in other words, but they remained pure Jews on the inside. Since they looked indistinct from their Arab neighbors, he must then explain how they performed their Jewishness, which he does as follows: In the form in which it was transmitted to them, that is to say, with the character impressed upon it by the Tanaim and Amoraim, Judaism was most holy to the Arabian Jews. They strictly observed the dietary laws, and solemnized the festivals, and the fast of Yom Kippur, which they called Ashura. They celebrated the Sabbath with such rigor that in spite of their delight in war, and the opportunity for enjoying it, their sword remained in its scabbard on that day. Although they had nothing to complain of in this hospitable country … they yearned nevertheless to return to the holy land of their fathers, and daily awaited the coming of the Messiah. (Graetz 1955 (original 1853), p. 58)

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However, Graetz’s comments here reveal another issue that he could not adequately deal with because he was, quite simply, unable to articulate the problem. Namely, why did Arabian Jews arrange themselves in tribes in the exact same manner that non‐Jewish Arabs did (see Lecker 1995, pp. 41–49)? In which case, why were there different Jewish tribes as opposed to just one? Were they Arab tribes that converted to (some type) of Judaism? If so, which type and how did “Jewish” ideas intermingle with so‐called local ones? Were they Arab tribes that practiced some form of monotheism that they imagined or was imag­ ined by others, including later sources, to be “Jewish.” There exists, as witnessed above, very little material or other archaeological remains that tell us how they lived. Another early treatment comes by way of Joseph Halévy (1889), a French Orientalist, who denied that the Jews of South Arabia could have been Jewish and instead argued that later Christian hagiographers used “Jewish” pejoratively to denote heterodox Christians. No Jewish king, he reasoned from the vantage point of late nineteenth-century Jewish pas­ sivity, would massacre his Christian subjects (including monks in the monastery at Najrān). These conflicting assessments, themselves based on the paucity and conflicting nature of our sources, have meant that Arabian Jews and Arabian Judaism are reduced to a series of footnotes or imagined, pace Lewis, as unimportant to Jewish history. While we assume the “Jews” of the H . ija¯z would have influenced Muḥammad’s monotheistic message, we do not know what to do with the political kingdom of the South Arabian Ḥimyarites, who, not unlike the Khazars, do not fit our inherited narrative of Jewish quiescence. Arabian Jews, therefore, challenge our assumptions about Judaism in the late antique period by provoking us to think about the complex relationship between center and mar­ gins and what constitutes normativity and its opposite. The view from the center, which has functioned as our operative one, portrays Jewish history as an outgrowth from a single nucleus, a spreading inkblot, to use Bulliet’s metaphor (1994, p.8), that we label “the rabbinate.” What other than a political label held Judaism together? How did it establish cohesion and what happened to those who departed from it? The view from the margins offers the possibility of addressing questions like these. It starts from the fact that doctrinal cohesion and theological normativity emerge gradually and are the direct result of the tensions between the center and margins. Since it is important not to make all the Jews within the Arabian Peninsula into a mono­ lith with the same genealogy, history, and set of concerns, it is necessary to differentiate them from one another.

Ḥ ijāzı ̄ Jews Jews existed in the Ḥ ijāz for several centuries prior to Muḥammad and the birth of Islam. The only problem, as just noted, is that we are not entirely sure what kind of Jews they were. Though some later Islamic traditions, as noted above, hold that at least some of these Jews descended from those who fled Jerusalem, there are problems with this. Why, for example, did they form into different tribes? A tombstone from Dedan, an oasis in central Arabia not far from Yathrı ̄b/Medina, for example, dates to 307 ce (Juasson and Savignac 1909–1922: no. 386; see also Hughes 2020), which would put the existence of Jews in the area prior to the conversion of the kingdom of Ḥimyar to Judaism (see below).


Aaron W. Hughes

There also exist numerous graffiti written in Nabatean in the area that appears to denote Jewish names, but they are difficult to date with any degree of certainty. As a result, it is unclear just what type of Judaism they practiced; nor is it particularly clear what the relationship was between these Jews, on the one hand, and those of South Arabia, on the other. There exist at least two inscriptions (Murayghān 1 and 3) dating to 552 that celebrate Ḥimyarite control over most of Arabia (Ryckmans 1953; see further Sayed 1988). This would indicate that this, at least nominally, Jewish kingdom of South Arabia had significant political control over the entire Arabian Peninsula at some point during the fifth and sixth centuries. It would seem that it was their ostensible Jewishness that would have put them into some sort of contact with Jewish tribes in the Ḥ ijāz and presumably Palestine, with the former perhaps acting, as was so common in Arabia at this time, as vassals in a much larger regional conflict that would also have included the likes of Byzantium and Persia. Robin suggests that these Ḥ ijāzı ̄ Jews could have helped Ḥimyar extend its influence in western and northern Arabia. This, in turn, would have increased the power and influence of the Ḥ ijāzı ̄ Jews (Robin 2004, p. 867), which certainly seems to have been the case, if we are at least to believe later Islamic sources. Yathrīb had, according to tradition, three Jewish tribes (Gil 1984; Hasson 1989; Lecker 1995, pp. 19–49) and, unlike Mecca, it does not seem to have been a polytheistic center, perhaps on account of the Jewish popu­ lation there.

Ḥimyarite Jews We also know that there existed Jewish communities in South Arabia, either derived from Jewish exiles from Jerusalem or autochthonous South Arabian clans professing some form of monotheism/Judaism (Beeston 1984a, 1984b; Gajda 2009, 2010). Indeed, in the fourth century, numerous sources reveal that the Ḥimyarite kingdom there converted to Judaism (Moburg 1924; Aharoni 1986; Nebes 2010), though, of course, we have no idea what type that may have been. There exist numerous inscriptions and graffiti (in Hebrew, Arabic, Nabatean, and Sabaic) that refer, for example, to Jews, but interestingly with non‐ Jewish sounding patronyms. What would they have converted to? Who would have con­ verted them? Would the entire kingdom have converted or only elite classes? Not unlike the Jews of the Ḥ ijāz, our knowledge of Jews in South Arabia largely derives from local inscriptions. We also possess external inscriptions (e.g., the Monumentum Adulitanum), Christian hagiographies (e.g., the early sixth century Syriac Book of the Ḥimyarites), and other works (such as the fifth century Anomean Philostorgius’s Ecclesiastical History). Such sources all reinforce Ḥimyarite inscriptions and tell us that at some point in the fourth century the kingdom of Ḥimyar seems to have converted to Judaism, perhaps not coincidentally about half a century after the conversion of its rivals, the Ethiopian kingdom of Axum (just across the Red Sea), to a Monophysite version of Christianity (Nebes 2010, pp. 39–40; Bowersock 2013, 63–77). Tradition credits king Malkīkarib Yuhaʾmin (r. c. 375–400) with the rejection of polytheism and the establish­ ment of Judaism as the official religion.1 We now begin to see inscriptions in the kingdom that attest to this conversion. One such inscription (Bayt al‐Ashwal 1), written in Sabaic,

Arabian Judaism at the Advent of Islam


the language of South Arabia, reads as follows: “with the help and grace of his Lord who created his person, Lord of life and death, Lord of heaven and earth who created every­ thing and with the prayers of his people Israel.” The inscription is also accompanied by a Hebrew phrase: ktb yhwdʾ zkwr l‐ ṭwbʾ ʾmn shlwm ʾmn (“Judah has written [this] so we remember. Amen. Peace. Amen”) (see Garbini 1970). An important question, to which we as yet do not know the answer, becomes: why, in the middle of the fourth century, did the Ḥimyarites suddenly decide to change their religious identity? An equally pressing question is, would this change in so‐called religious identity mean changes in other aspects of Ḥimyarite existence? How, in other words, did religion fit into Arab identity (see Webb 2016, pp. 9–15)? Was religion something they could easily change without modifications in the self‐perception of being “Arab”? Was religion some­ how distinct from political identities, especially in an age of the great political rivalry between Christian Byzantium and the Zoroastrianism of the Sasanain Empire? What we do know is that, at this period, we suddenly begin to witness the disappearance of inscriptions invoking polytheistic deities and the appearance of ones that mention the high god, Raḥmanan. The Anomoean Church historian Philostorgius (368–439) suggests a political motive for the conversion. The Ḥimyarites, according to him, converted to Judaism as a way to distance themselves from the power of Byzantium, which had 40 years earlier tried to convert them to Christianity (Rodinson 1984, 2001, pp. 228–236). Philostorgius also tells us that the Ḥimyarites engaged in distinctly Jewish customs such as circumcision, but he adds that their subjects “were quite pagan in their ways, sacrificing to the sun, the moon, and the demons, which they venerated with statues and monuments according to local custom” (Amidon 2007, pp. 41–44). This would seem to support the claim that only the ruling elites converted, and that the remainder preferred polytheistic practices. The inscription evidence suggests, according to Robin, that this introduction of a new religion into Ḥimyar was not a gradual transition from polytheism to monotheism, but a sharp break with their traditional religion (Robin 2000; see, further, Beeston 1994). Suddenly we begin to see inscriptions with Hebrew and Aramaic terms like ʿālam (world), baraka (bless), haymanōt (guarantee), kanı ̄sat (meeting hall), in addition to new personal names, such as Yṣ ḥq (Isaac), Yhwd’ (Juda), and Yws’f (Joseph). This would seem to be further supported by external sources that also attest to the fact that Judaism was the dominant religion of Ḥimyar. Despite this change in religious allegiance in the kingdom, however, it is worth noting with Robin that: If Judaism seems to have enjoyed a privileged position, it did not have the status of an official religion: while the sovereigns were probably Jewish personally, their inscriptions never state this conviction, only a careful monotheism with no particular affiliation, which was probably the model of the ḥanı̄f of Islamic tradition. (Robin 2012, p. 271)

Ḥ anı̄f (pl. ḥunafāʾ) was a later Islamic category that was retroactively employed to refer to monotheists unaffiliated with prior monotheisms, but who were nonetheless still mono­ theist. It was a term, for example, that allowed Muhammad to be a monotheist without being either a Jew or a Christian. If this was in fact the case, as Robin suggests above, then the Ḥimyarites might well have represented some form of autochthonous Arabian ­monotheism or monolatrism that either had a thin layer of Judaism over it or which was


Aaron W. Hughes

mistaken for Judaism by contemporaneous and later sources (Hughes 2020). Regardless, however, some form of Judaism seems to have been part of the inspiration, perhaps in light of the religious rivalries of the larger area. It is also worth noting that even though we have Hebrew inscriptions and names, many of the patronyms are not identifiably “Jewish.” A Hebrew inscription from Ṣuʿar (modern day Jordan) from roughly 470 ce, for example, notes the burial of one Yosi b. Awfa: This is the resting place of Yoseh b. Awfa, who died in the city of Tafar in the land of the Ḥimyarites, leaving for the land of Israel and who was buried the day of the eve of Sabbath, the 29th day of month of Tammuz … equal to the year [400] of the destruction of Temple. Peace [Shalom] …. (Naveh 1999–2000, p. 624)

While the name Yosi is certainly attested in Jewish sources, the patronym Afwa is not and, if anything, seems to be of “Arab” derivation (see Hughes 2020). It also shows the reach of the Ḥimyarites into Palestine. Thus, if there was a conversion, mass or otherwise, in Ḥimyar, what was its shape? From whom did the Ḥimyarite kings learn? Who, in other words, taught them Judaism and, of course, the omnipresent question, what kind of Judaism did they acquire? Would these kings have forced the new religion on all of the inhabitants of Ḥimyar? This, of course, leads me to an important question: why must we assume that the Ḥimyarites were Jewish? Perhaps instead we should imagine them as creating a new religion that combined elements of Judaism with local religio‐cultural practices. This, of course, is something that would also occur in Mecca several centuries later. Perhaps, then, we need to see Ḥimyarite monotheism as a precursor to Islam, if not an actual source of it. Regardless, it is clear that by the fifth century Ḥimyarite armies, and presumably influence, were in the Ḥ ijāz, and they dominated the Arabian Peninsula up to the vicinity of lower Iraq and, perhaps, as far north as Palestine, which in itself might help to explain the transference of ideas between the former and South Arabia. Though, of course, in the absence of further evidence, it is still not clear what such ideas would have been and the channels through which they would have moved. We also know that there existed numerous religious ideas, forms of expression, and communities in the Arabian Peninsula prior to the advent of Islam, which certainly would have included various forms of Christianity, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism. This returns us to the block quotation of Robin above. Does the fact that the Ḥimyarite monarchs were ostensibly “Jewish” (again, with the understanding that this term is underdetermined in the present context) mean that Judaism was the official religion of the region? Or did they promote some form of ḥanifism that, while distinct from Christianity, would have appealed to the masses of Ḥimyar? By the sixth century, after a Christian‐Axum invasion, with the help of Byzantium, Ḥimyarite independence effectively ended. There was a brief attempt to re‐establish the kingdom, which culminated famously in the massacre of a Christian monastery in Najrān in 523, as recounted in the Book of the Ḥimyarites (Moburg 1924), and which is also recounted in Ibn Isḥāq’s Sı̄ra (Guillaume 1955, pp. 16–18). Despite this renaissance, the kingdom eventually disappeared about 50 years later, which also happens to coincide with the period that the Islamic tradition ascribes to the birth of Muḥammad.

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Arabian Jews and the Question of Jewish Identity What do we make of these Jews and, just as importantly, what do we make of their Judaism? In a recent study, Haggai Mazuz—following a long line of Orientalists—proclaims that the Jews of the Ḥ ijāz “were Talmudic‐Rabbinic Jews in almost every respect” (Mazuz 2014, p. 99). However, it is certainly worth pointing out that he does this without pro­ ducing a shred of evidence, and that which he does produce comes from much later peri­ ods (for a problem with such sources, see Crone 1980, pp. 3–6). Moreover, he also assumes that “Talmudic‐Rabbinic” Judaism was somehow normative both at Jewish cent­ ers and also in marginal areas (for a more complicated view, see Cohen 2006, pp. 205– 222). Glen W. Bowersock (2013) has likewise recently remarked of the Ḥimyarite Jews that they “were authentically Jewish” (p. 83) and that “it has become absolutely certain that [they] … genuinely embraced Judaism as converts” (p. 84). Again, though, what “authentically Jewish” means in such a context is problematic. While it is clear that the Ḥimyarite kingdom converted to some form of Judaism based on numerous Sabaic inscriptions in the area and, from external sources that attest to this, we have very little idea of the contents or contours of this “Judaism.” We know, for exam­ ple, that around 380 ce inscriptions abruptly cease to mention the polytheistic deities of South Arabia, and begin to refer solely to Raḥmānān (“the Merciful One”; al‐Raḥmān in Arabic). Though these inscriptions refer to a monotheistic deity, they elicited no changes in the script, calendar, or language of the Ḥimyarites (Robin 2015, p. 157). Some have argued that Raḥmānān might be related to the Hebrew raḥamim and/or it might func­ tion as a precursor to Allah, the high god of the North. A.F.L. Beeston went so far as to argue that we should not refer to this social group as Jews, but as “Ḥimyarite Raḥmanists”(Beeston 1984a, pp. 149–151).2 Even Robin refers to this type of Judaism as “une variété minimaliste de judaïsme ou, si l’on préfère, un premier degré dans l’adhésion au judaïsme” (Robin 2015, p. 63), though he is not clear what his comparanda are. We also possess many Arabic sources that attest to the Jewish character of the Ḥ ijāz and South Arabia. These include the oft‐cited Biography of Muḥammad (Sı̄rat rasūl allah), ḥadīth reports, and the later commentary tradition. However, we have to remember that such sources would have been written in more cosmopolitan centers where more recog­ nizable Muslims would have interacted with more stable Jews. We thus have to be cau­ tious that both of these later identities were projected back on to the time of Muḥammad. While there certainly may be historical kernels to some of the stories that we possess, we must also appreciate that such kernels have been taken out of their original context and reshaped to meet new needs or functions. Maybe this might even be the wrong question entirely. It seems that at least the leaders of the Ḥimyarites saw themselves as Jews and as restoring the political independence of Israel in South Arabia. If they imagined themselves as Jewish, in other words, who are we to deny their appeals to this appellation? Yet, even if we do call them Jews we surely need to try to ascertain just what type of Judaism they professed. Philostorgius, the Anomoean Church historian mentioned above, tells us, for example, that the Ḥimyarites claimed descent from Abraham through Keturah (Amidon 2007, p. 42), his wife after the death of Sarah. While this is obviously not the place to ascertain such mythic ­connections, what is


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worth noting is that the Ḥimyarites made the connection and that external sources also regarded them as “Jews.” Regardless of whether or not they were Jewish, or just how Jewish were they, these groups reveal a number of important issues for our understanding of Judaism at this time period. First, we cannot assume that rabbinic Judaism was normative, let alone omnipres­ ent throughout Jewish communities of the Mediterranean basin and beyond. If anything, it would seem that such normativity was only produced in response to various other non‐ normative types of Judaism, such as that practiced among the Ḥimyarites. It would seem to be in the latter camp that we must locate the Jews of Arabia. Within this context, it is perhaps worth noting that these Jews lacked many of the symbols found in inscriptions that we have from other areas that date to around this time. Second, these Jewish communities in the Arabian Peninsula also show us something of the complexity of how Judaism interacted with local customs in Late Antiquity. In this regard, we can be certain that Ḥimyarite Judaism would have intersected with and absorbed local customs and various forms of monotheism, which, in turn, leads us to ask just how fluid was Judaism in this period. Judaism, to return to the inkblot metaphor, did not sim­ ply spread from rabbinic centers throughout the Jewish world. Just as this Ḥimyarite Judaism (or, alternatively, Ḥimyarite Raḥmanism) would have played some role in the emergence of Islam, we can also see it having an influence on the emergence of rabbinic Judaism (see Hughes 2017, pp. 125–144). Indeed, this admixture of cultural forms and identities is a complex one that seems to have played a fairly large part in antique and late antique identity formations. According to Erich S. Gruen’s formulation, “When ancients reconstructed their roots or fashioned their history, they often did so by associating themselves with the legends and traditions of others” (Gruen 2011, p. 4). It is safe to say that how we imagine difference in Late Antiquity or even the medieval period rarely falls along modernist lines. Different social groups—groups we may today conveniently label using anachronistic concepts such as “ethnicity” or even “religion”—certainly interacted with one another (see Hughes 2017, pp. 10–13). We do a disservice, in other words, when we take the constructions—­religious, social, ethnic, and so on—of later centuries and retroactively put them on other times and places. Third, what do these Arab Jews tell us about proselytism? If communities in the Ḥ ijāz and South Arabia converted to some form of Judaism in the fourth century, what does this say about Jewish theologizing and self‐understanding at a formative moment in the con­ solidation of the tradition? Was Judaism a proselytizing religion at this time or, alterna­ tively, were there certain types of Judaism that were? We thus would seem to get a glimpse at rival interpretations of what Judaism meant in the fourth century. Though we should not reduce the existence or accomplishments of Arabian Jews to such internecine debates, it is important to be aware of them. Fourth, and relatedly, what does this reveal about “Jewish power” in the late antique period? We simply do not know what to do with Jews who had political autonomy and who violently crushed their opposition (for our dominant narrative, albeit with a neo‐­ conservative twist; see Wisse 2007). We instead prefer a narrative that has Muhammad put to death all the males of a Jewish tribe and sell its children and females into slavery to a narrative that has a Jewish kingdom massacre Christian monks in a monastery. A basic

Arabian Judaism at the Advent of Islam


question becomes, what do we do with Jews (or people who claim to be Jews) who wielded political and military power between 70 and 1948, and just how do we fit them into Jewish history? Finally, the existence of these Arabian Jews has major repercussions for our understand­ ing of the rise of Islam. Again, we currently have more questions than we have answers. One thing seems likely, however, and that is that the earlier narrative, told by generations of Orientalists, that Judaism (and Christianity) functioned as a “midwife” to the birth of Islam is woefully problematic and inaccurate. It seems unlikely, however, that there would not have been some sort of connection between the demise of the Ḥimyarite kingdom in the middle of the sixth century and the rise of Islam shortly thereafter. Could Islam, which coalesced over the ensuing centuries, represent an extension and development of some form of Arabian Judaism, Ḥimyarite Raḥmanism, and other local customs?

Conclusions The so‐called Jews of Arabia expose some of the fundamental problems of Jewish studies. Instead of learning the relevant languages (Sabaic, Nabataean, Arabic, etc.) to read these inscriptions and to help understand and contextualize the complexity of Judaism on the Arabian Peninsula as a way to problematize further our understanding of Judaism in Late Antiquity, we repeat the simple narrative that normative rabbinic Judaism simply existed therein. All the evidence, however, belies such an assumption. Even those in Islamic stud­ ies are guilty of such retrojection (see, for example, Donner 2010, pp. 35–36). While there exist many problems and lacunae in reconstructing the history of Arabian Judaism, we do possess enough sources—contemporaneous and later—that ought to provide us with a better sense of who these Jews were. The problem, however, might well be with our working definition of Judaism in these centuries. As I have tried to articulate above, Arab tribes who claimed to profess Judaism, or who were imagined to profess Judaism by outsiders and/or later sources, would most likely not have been Jewish in ways that rabbinic Judaism would eventually construct. Thus, there remain many basic questions to which we still need answers. In the absence of more evi­ dence—including things as basic as biblical inscriptions—we stand on uncertain terrain. Yet, the existence of these Arabian Jews, if this is in fact what we want to call them, hold out tremendous hope for a better understanding of the complexity of late antique Judaism just as much as their presence nuances and expands our understanding of the rise of Islam.

NOTES 1 According to the Arab‐Muslim tradition, however, the conversion of Himyar to Judaism occurs during the reign of Malkīkarib’s son, Abīkarib Asʿad (r. c. 400–445), who in Arabic is given the name Tubbaʿ, Asʿad Tubbaʿ or Abū Karin Asʿad al‐Kāmil (“the perfect”). 2 Raḥmānān, for example, is also used in the largely Christian Syriac to refer to God (see Levy 1876–1889, p. 417b).


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REFERENCES Abu l‐Ḥasan, Ḥusayn b. ʿAlī (1997). Qirāʾa li‐kitābāt liḥyāniyya min jabal qkma bi‐manṭiqat al‐ula. Riyadh: King Fahd National Library. Aharoni, Reuben (1986). Yemenite Jewry: Origins, Culture, and Literature. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. Amidon, Philip R. (trans.) (2007). Philostorgius: Church History. Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature. Beeston, A.F.L. (1984a). Himyarite monotheism. Studies in the History of Arabia (eds. Abdelgadir M. Abdalla, Sami al‐Sakkar, Richard T. Morter, Abd al‐Rahman al‐Ansary, and Gami’at al‐Malik Sa’ūd), vol. 2, 149–154. Riyadh: King Saud University Press. Beeston, A.F.L. (1984b). Judaism and Christianity in pre‐Islamic Yemen. L’Arabie du Sud: Histoire et Civilisation (eds. Joseph Chelhod and R. Bayle des Hermens), vol. 1, 271–278. Paris: Maisonneuve et Larose. Beeston, A.F.L. (1994). Foreign loanwords in Sabaic. In: Arabia Felix: Beiträge zur Sprache und Kultur des vorislamischen Arabien: Festschrift Walter W. Müller zum 60 Geburtstag (ed. Norbert Nebes), 39‐45. Weisbaden: Harrowitz. Bowersock, Glen W. (2013). The Throne of Adulis: Red Sea Wars on the Eve of Islam. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. Bulliet, Richard W. (1994). Islam: The View from the Edge. New York: Columbia University Press. Cohen, Shaye J.D. (2006). From the Maccabees to the Mishnah, 2e. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press. Crone, Patricia (1980). Slaves on Horses: The Evolution of the Islamic Polity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Donner, Fred M. (2010). Muhammad and the Believers: At the Origins of Islam. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Gajda, Iwona (2009). Le royaume de Ḥimyar à l’époque monothéiste. Paris: AIBL and De Boccard. Gajda, Iwona (2010). Quel monothéisme en Arabie du Sud ancienne? In: Juifs et chrétiens en Arabie aux 5th et 6th siècles (eds. J. Beaucamp, F. Briquel‐Chatonnet, and C.J. Robin), 107–120. Paris: Association des Amis du Centre d’Histoire et Civilisation de Byzance. Garbini, Giovanni (1970). Una bilingue sabeo‐ebraica da Ẓafar. Annali dell’Istituto Orientale de Napoli 29: 153–165. Ghabban, ʿAlī Ibrāhīm, Béatrice André‐Salvini, Françoise Demange, Carine Juvin, and Marianne Cotty (2010). Routes d’Arabie: Archéologie et Histoire du Royaume d’Arabie Saoudite. Paris: Somogy. Geiger, Abraham (1970, original 1833). Judaism and Islam (translated by F.M. Young). Madras: MDCSPK Press; reprint New York: Ktav. Gil, Moshe (1984). The origins of the Jews of Yathrib. Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 4: 203–234. Goitein, Shlomo Dov (1955). Jews and Arabs: Their Contact Through the Ages, 3e rev. New York: Schocken. Graetz, Heinrich (1955, original 1853). History of the Jews, vol. 3. Philadelphia, PA: Jewish Publication Society of America.

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Gruen, Erich S. (2011). Rethinking the Other in Late Antiquity. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Guillaume, Alfred (1955). The Life of Muhammad: A Translation of Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Halévy, Joseph (1889). Examen critique des sources relatives à la persecution des chré­ tiens de Nedjran par le roi juif des Himyarites. Revue des étude juives 18: 16–42 and 161–178. Hasson, Isaac (1989). Contributions à l’étude des Aws et des ẖazrağ. Arabica 36: 1–35. Healey, John (1993). The Nabataean Tomb Inscriptions of Madʾin Saliḥ. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (Journal of Semitic Studies Supplement) Hughes, Aaron W. (2017). Shared Identities: Medieval and Modern Imaginings of Judeo‐ Islam. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press. Hughes, Aaron W. (2020). South Arabian “Judaism,” Ḥimyarite Raḥmanism, and the origins of Islam. In: Remapping Emergent Islam: Texts, Social Settings, and Ideological Trajectories (ed. Carlos Segovia). Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press. Juasson, Antonin and Savignac, Rafaël (1909–1922). Mission archéologique en Arabie. Paris: E. Leroux. Katsh, Abraham I. (1954). Judaism in Islam: Biblical and Talmudic Backgrounds of the Koran and Its Commentaries. New York: Sepher‐Hermon Press. Kugel, James (1994). In Potiphar’s House: The Interpretive Life of Biblical Texts. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Lecker, Michael (1995). Muslims, Jews and Pagans: Studies on Early Islamic Medina. Leiden: Brill. Levy, Jakob (1876–1889). Chaldäisches Wörterbuch über die Targumim und einen grossen Teil des rabbinischen Schriftthums, vol. 2. Leipzig: Verlag von Baumgärtners Buchhandlung. Lewis, Bernard (1984). The Jews of Islam. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Lindstedt, Ilkka (2018). Pre‐Islamic Arabia and early Islam. In: Routledge Handbook on Early Islam (ed. Herbert Berg), 159–176. Oxford and New York: Routledge. Mazuz, Haggai (2014). The Religious and Spiritual Life of the Jews of Medina. Leiden: Brill. Moburg, Axel (1924). Book of the Himyarites: Fragments of a Hitherto Unknown Syriac Work. Lund: C.W.K. Gleerup. Naveh, Joseph (1999–2000). Seven new epitaphs from Zoar (Hebrew). Tarbiz LXIX: 619–635. Nebes, Norbert (2010). The martyrs of Najrān and the end of Ḥimyar: on the political history of South Arabia in the early sixth century. In: The Qur’ān in Context: Historical and Literary Investigations into the Qur’ānic Milieu (eds. Angelika Neuwirth, Nicolai Sinai, and Michael Marx), 27–59. Leiden: Brill. Nebes, Norbert and Stein, Peter (2008). Ancient South Arabian. In: The Ancient Languages of Syria–Palestine and Arabia (ed. Roger D. Woodard), 145–178. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Newby, Gordon D. (1988). A History of the Jews of Arabia: From Ancient Times to Their Eclipse under Early Islam. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press. Robin, Christian J. (2000). A propos de la prière: Emprunts lexicaux à l’hébreu et à l’araméen relevés dans les insriptions préislamiques de l’Arabie méridionale et dans le


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Coran. In: Prières Méditerranéennes Hier et Aujourd’hui (Actes du Colloque Organisé par le Centre Paul‐Albert Février à Aix‐en‐Provence les 2 et 3 Avril 1998) (ed. Gilles Dorival and Didier Pralon), 45–69. Aix‐en‐Provence: Publications de l’Université de Provence. Robin, Christian J. (2004). Ḥimyar et Israël. Académie des Inscriptions et Belles‐Lettre, Comptes Rendus de l’Année 20: 831–906. Robin, Christian J. (2012). Arabia and Ethiopia. In: The Oxford Handbook of Late Antiquity (ed. Scott Fitzgerald Johnson), 247–332. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. Robin, Christian J. (2015). Quel Judaïsme en Arabie? In: Le Judaïsme de l’Arabie Antique: Actes de Colloque de Jérusalem (Février, 2006) (ed. C. Robin), 15–295. Turnhout: Brepols. Rodinson, Maxime (1984). L’Arabie du sud chez les auteurs classiques. In: L’Arabie du Sud, Histoire et Civilisation, 1: Le People Yéménite et ses Racines (ed. Joseph Chelhod), 55–88. Paris: Editions G‐P Maisonneuve et Larose. Rodinson, Maxime (2001). La conversion de l’Ethiopie. Raydān 7: 225–262. Ryckmans, Gonzague (1953). Inscription sud‐arabes. Dixième série. Le Muséon 66: 267–317. Sayed, Abdel Monem A.H. (1988). Emendations to the Bir Murayghan inscription RY 506 and a new minor inscription from there. Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 18: 131–143. Schäfer, Peter (1995). The History of the Jews in Antiquity (transl. David Chowcat). Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers. Schoeler, Gregor (2011). The Biography of Muhammad: Nature and Authenticity. Oxford and New York: Routledge. Wasserstrom, Steven M. (1995). Between Muslim and Jew: The Problem of Symbiosis Under Early Islam. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Webb, Peter (2016). Imagining the Arabs: Arab Identity and the Rise of Islam. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Wisse, Ruth (2007). Jews and Power. New York: Schocken.




Sexualities and Il/licit Relationships in Late Ancient Jewish Literatures Federico Dal Bo Introduction Sexualities and il/licit relationships in late ancient Jewish literatures1 appear as a series of principles culled from the Hebrew Bible and usually evaluated positively with respect to the order of Creation. Namely, that sexuality is an accepted component of human reality that determines the subordination of women to men due to the female sexual appetite described in Genesis 3: 16 (Ilan 1995, 122ff). These literatures conform to heteronormativity through specific legal, cultic, and cultural presuppositions but offer different regulations of human sexual behavior. The Hebrew Bible provides a large set of rules for sexual behavior conduct. The primarily heteronormative nature of this text covers most private and public sexual conduct due to a number of social‐legal presuppositions: the designation of an adult male as the principal legal subject, the inflection of most of the biblical laws in the gendered masculine form (probably as an imitation of Akkadian law collections; see Dohrmann, Chapter 17), and the major concern for the legal consequence of intercourse (legitimate or illegitimate lineage and heirs). The various late ancient Jewish texts select and emphasize specific aspects of scriptural legislation, according to their own theological agendas. Pseudepigraphic texts tend to emphasize moral issues and manifest a generally pessimistic view of sexuality, often blaming external sources for sexual misconduct among humans. The Community of Qumran shared this same moralistic attitude but concerned itself with issues of ritual purity in order to protect the holy community they formed in the desert. Finally, the tannaitic (early rabbinic) literature recasts the whole biblical legislation in rigorous juridical terms, creating and developing a corpus of rabbinic literature and rabbinic legislation in which sex, sexuality, and sexual behavior forms one integral part. In the present context, sexuality—or, A Companion to Late Ancient Jews and Judaism: Third Century bce to Seventh Century ce, First Edition. Edited by Naomi Koltun-Fromm and Gwynn Kessler. © 2020 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published 2020 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


Federico Dal Bo

more correctly, sexualities—will be treated as an activity, whose perimeter extends beyond the mere human sexual process and reflects an “all‐pervasive body politics” (Burrel and Hearn 1989, p. 13). Yet the Hebrew Bible also manifests interest in eroticism (courting, seduction, and pleasure) as shown, for instance, in the famous Song of Songs, but it usually uses a terse, stereotyped, stringent, or euphemistic language in order to describe intercourse without specifying what type of sexual contact is generally permitted or prohibited. This genericity in language usually has an important impact on classifying what acts are prohibited, for instance, in the case of male homosexuality. Sexuality appears in late ancient Jewish literatures as a common human practice strictly normalized by biblical principles, particularly through the lens of Leviticus 18–19. Sexuality is acknowledged as an integral part of human life and is usually evaluated positively with respect to the order of Creation, that is, with respect to the gender hierarchy assumed from Genesis 3: 16. Therefore, heterosexual intercourse between a marital couple is generally accepted as the God‐given prominent norm for decent human sexual behavior and, by implication, the only acceptable type of sexual relationship. By contrast, other sexual ­practices—either within or outside a marital relationship—are measured with respect to heteronormativity and to their divergence from it. In general terms, most of these texts more or less explicitly conform to biblical heteronormativity: heterosexual intercourse within marriage is the most appropriate expression of sexuality and reflects the economic expectations of ancient Israelite society. According to the biblical tradition, women are “property” of males and therefore subject to possible “transactions,” namely between father and husband (Ilan 1995, p. 88). Nevertheless, (I) the Hebrew Bible, (II) pseudepigraphical and apocalyptic texts, (III) the Qumran literature, and (IV) early tannaitic literature each provide different evaluations of human sexuality, modifying the biblical precedents accordingly. They generally conform to the aforementioned heteronormative principle but reflect specific legal, cultic, and cultural presuppositions, as d ­ iscussed more precisely below.

The Hebrew Bible The Bible poses heteronormativity as a fundamental principle for sexual human behavior: male–female sexual relationships within a marital couple are accounted as a God‐given complementary principle of social and family structure. This is overtly assumed in the second narrative of the Creation of humanity: “the man (’adam) said: ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman (’ishah) for she was taken out of man (’ish). That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen 2: 23–24; Satlow 2001, p. 190). These verses clearly provide the explanation for why “man” clings to his “wife” and why the purpose of this social union— marriage—is procreation. The Hebrew Bible also accepted polygyny, possibly to prevent prostitution of socially weak women (Levine 2009, p. 33), and permitted a man to marry several women simultaneously (Exod. 21: 10, Deut. 21: 15–17), as clearly reflected in many biblical narratives (Gen. 26: 34, 28: 6–9, Exod. 2: 21, Num. 10: 29, Num. 12: 1, 1Sam. 1: 1–8, 1Kings 11: 1–3). The Hebrew Bible usually stigmatizes any sexual and social behavior diverting from these heteronormative expectations (Olyan 2011).

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The levitical texts in particular also regulate sexual relations with a menstruant. Leviticus 15: 19–24 claims that anyone who touches a menstruant or her discharge, even through sexual activity becomes ritually impure (cannot approach the holy). This legislation parallels the regulations concerning semen (even in intercourse). Both instances of ritual impurity can be and should be “neutralized” through appropriate cleansing rituals (time, ablutions, and/or offerings). Leviticus 18: 19 and 20: 18, however, strongly ­stigmatize sexual relations with a menstruant, with no redeeming rituals attached. Other sexual acts—like masturbation, oral sex, anal sex, or non‐marital sexual activities like prostitution—are acknowledged as social realities but do not usually represent a specific juridical issue, possibly with the exception of cultic prostitution, explicitly prohibited in Deut. 23: 17–18. The biblical laws do not necessarily reflect societal practice, just as some cultural assumptions about sexuality are conveyed through narrative, without being made legal or illegal. Il/licit sexual acts pertain to the presupposed economics of ancient Israelite society that regulate woman’s childhood, sexuality, and marriage under implicit economic categories. More specifically, from a strict juridical perspective, the Hebrew Bible strongly stigmatizes a number of sexual conducts: (a) incest, (b) adultery, (c) ­intermarriage, (d) prostitution, (e) same‐sex relations among males, (f) pedophilia and pederasty (usually confused with same‐sex relations among males), (g) intercourse with servants, and (h) bestiality, most likely because of these specific acts’ presumed interference with accepted social hierarchies, property rights, and economic expectations. (a) Incest is severely regulated in the legislation of Leviticus 18 but somehow tolerated in some narratives in Genesis due to its narrative function in designating the structure of kinship (McClenney‐Sadler 2007, pp. 89–90; Dal Bo 2013, pp. 45–50). It is usually designated by the Hebrew term “nakedness” (‘arwah), as in one should not uncover the “nakedness” of the forbidden sexual partner. Biblical incest norms functioned in defining and regulating both endogamy and progeny in that they limited permitted partners in order to assure proper lineage. The biblical texts focus on the responsibilities of male householders, viewing women in this process as linguistically, ritually, and legally assimilated to “vessels” or “depositories” for men’s children (McClenney‐Sadler 2007, pp. 32–33). More specifically, the Hebrew Bible distinguishes between three different lists of forbidden sexual partners, according to the intensity of the degree of kinship: blood relatives (Lev. 18: 6–11), blood relatives’ kin (Lev. 18: 12–16), and, finally, two people who are close kin to each other (Lev. 18: 17–18). Despite their alleged “moral character,” the first function of the biblical incest—and sexual transgressions—norms are social. They pertain to the definition of kinship. Therefore, it is plausible to assume that biblical incest norms implicitly provide a taxonomy of kinship from both a social and a juridical point of view. As a consequence, these norms provide a social and gender hierarchy, offering protection to core family members. Notably, the Bible overtly forbids sexual relationships with those “blood relatives,” as mentioned in the Code of Purity (Lev. 21: 2–3): mother, father, son, daughter, brother, and sister. A relevant omission among the sexual transgressions mentioned in Leviticus 18 is that between father and daughter—both as legitimate and as illegitimate. This specific case of what we moderns would consider incest is mentioned neither in the Hebrew Bible (nor in the Mishnah); yet, it is implicitly prohibited twice: once (Lev. 18: 6) on account of one’s loyalty to the Lord and once (Lev. 18: 17) on account of one’s wife. The former argument


Federico Dal Bo

presupposes that a daughter belongs to the “blood relatives;” the latter presupposes that interests and rights of one’s wife are to be protected from competing with her daughter. This omission cannot be mistaken for leniency; rather, it presupposes the economics of ancient Israelite society. Nevertheless, these juridical prescriptions often collide with the ­narrative passages from the Hebrew Bible that apparently describe the forefathers and foremothers of ancient Israel indulging in some of these acts, as the famous examples of Noah, Lot, Jacob, and Reuben demonstrate. Whereas later rabbinic literature will try to harmonize this tension, the Hebrew Bible appears to leave it untouched (Dal Bo 2013, pp. 48–50). (b) Adultery is condemned not only in terms of a sexual transgression but also—and especially—in terms of the violation of another man’s marital privileges, for adultery in the biblical texts refers primarily to men, married or not, sleeping with another man’s wife (“stealing” their properties; Exod. 20: 13, Deut. 5: 17, Num. 5: 17, and Lev. 18: 20). The texts prescribe its punishment by capital sentence. Indeed, the exceptional nature of capital punishment in this case points to the political and social relevance and fear of adultery in Israelite society. An integral part of the punishment for adultery is the stigmatization of the female individual suspected of infidelity. Notably, her legitimate husband is allowed to express sentiments of “jealousy” (kana’ut) with respect to his wife who is designated with the Hebrew term sotah (Num. 5: 14). Nevertheless, the biblical legislation treats cases of adultery differently dependent on the woman’s social class. (c) Certain biblical traditions explicitly prohibit intermarriage with certain Gentiles (Canaanites) who do not adhere to biblical‐style monotheism (Deut. 7: 1–6) as it infringes upon the commandment of being a holy—namely separate—nation. Priests are further forbidden from marrying certain classes of (Israelite) women, such as widows or divorcees (Lev. 20: 7, 13–14). (d) Prostitution’s treatment in the Hebrew Bible often intersects with other sexual transgressions, such as adultery and idolatry. Ordinary prostitution (zenut)—hiring a (­typically) female individual for sexual intercourse—is acknowledged both in legalistic and narrative passages. The inclusion of the prostitute Rahab (Josh. 6: 17–19) in David’s genealogy (as reflected in Matt. 1:5, Heb. 11: 31, and Jas. 2: 25) as well as the mention of prostitutes in other famous biblical passages (e.g., Gen. 38) suggest that Israelite society was relatively tolerant of prostitution as long as it did not involve collateral ­ transgressions—such as sex during menstruation or non‐heterosexual intercourse. ­ Provided with this legal precaution, prostitution would be disqualified as an illicit act only in cases where it also involved sexual idolatry (as in the case of cultic prostitution) or ­adultery (as in the case of a married prostitute).2 (e) Same‐sex relations are prohibited according to Leviticus 18 and 20,3 but it is treated explicitly only with respect to males, as evident from two injunctions: “do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman; it is an abhorrence (to’evah)” (Lev. 18: 22) and “if a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, the two of them have done an abhorrent thing; they shall be put to death, their bloodguilt is upon them” (Lev. 20: 13). Although no explicit reason is given against same‐sex sexual activities among males, the euphemistic Hebrew expression “as one lies with a woman” (mishkavey ’ishah) suggests that penetrative same‐sex intercourse between men is prohibited with respect to biblical heteronormativity and, more specifically, on account of several other assumptions: one, that same‐sex anal intercourse would be a sort of “parody” of heterosexual intercourse (Dal Bo 2013, p. 184); and two, that this act would be a “waste of seed,” a notion that will be developed

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only in later Jewish literature (Satlow 1994). From a closer ritualistic point of view, male homosexuality—as involving anal intercourse—would be disqualified as a legitimate sexual behavoir as would produce the interaction between two definiling agents—such as seed and excrements (Olyan 2011, p. 80). The Bible’s particular interest in preserving the binary, hierarchical male–female gender difference is also reflected in the absence of ­legislation on same‐sex relations among females; these relations are simply neglected in scripture. This concern with binary difference is a particular interest of the Bible as it establishes clear taxonomies, yet its androcentric bias neglects other gender issues. (f) The Hebrew Bible does not appear to treat pedophilia as a discrete legal issue. On the contrary, a set of laws and narratives seem to suggest how a father in patriarchal times had the absolute control over his children’s—and especially his daughters’—sexuality in pre‐marital conditions. The Bible also apparently neglects to treat the case of sex between adults and children, unless this infringes on other rulings, such as betrothing one’s daughter and refraining from same‐sex relations among males. Indeed, pederasty—intended as the same‐sex relationship with an adult male and an adolescent male, widespread in Greek culture but with no equivalent in the coeval Jewish one (Feldman 1960)—is prohibited only implicitly in the Hebrew Bible, through the injunction against same‐sex relations among males. Both issues, however, interested the rabbis (see below). (g) The Bible manifests particular interest in regulating intercourse of a male owner with his female servants, as it is prescribed in a lexically difficult biblical text: “if a man has carnal relations with a woman who is a slave and has been designated (neherefet) for another man, but has not been redeemed or given her freedom, there shall be an examination (bikoret); they shall not be put to death since she has not been freed” (Lev. 19: 20). This text presents some semantic difficulties while using the Hebrew terms neherefet and bikkoret that were later discussed at length in the rabbinic literature. Yet scripture elsewhere stigmatizes intercourse of a male owner with a female servant if it infringes on the biblical law against adultery. Similar to the case of sex with minors, the Hebrew Bible remains silent about specific issues in sexual relationships with female servants and seems to view them mostly through patriarchal expectations. (h) The Hebrew Bible strongly prohibits bestiality four times (Exod. 22: 19, Lev. 18: 23, Lev. 20: 15–16, and Deut. 27: 21). The dissemination of this prohibition in every biblical legal collection as well as its explicit reference both to men and women suggests that bestiality was a relatively frequent practice in Near East societies and would potentially raise more social issues than same‐sex relationships. The reasons for this prohibition are simultaneously legal and metaphysical: on the one hand, bestiality obviously involves the “mingling” (tevel) of two species that are to be kept separate (Lev. 18: 23 and Lev. 20: 15–16); on the other hand, bestiality violates the divine hierarchy of Creation that separate animals from humans who were created in God’s image (Gen. 1: 25–28).

Pseudepigrapha and Other Early Jewish Texts The various texts discussed in this section exhibit a considerably different worldview from the biblical texts (see also Mroczek, Chapter 5). Jubilees (third to second centuries bce), for instance, is mostly concerned with the nexus of sexuality, the laws of ritual purity, and morality (Loader 2007, p. 305; Klawans 2000, pp. 75–88; Harrington 2004,


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pp. 27–30). Yet most of these texts usually conform to all the biblical requirements on sexual behavior and follow the Hebrew Bible’s fundamental heteronormativity while especially emphasizing masculinity “as the dominant principle of the natural order” (Halpern‐Amaru 1999, p. 11). Many other texts positively receive most of the biblical rulings on incest, adultery, and intermarriage, without concerns for ritual purity. More specifically, the apocalyptic‐themed texts (e.g., 1 Enoch) supplement biblical principles and language on sexuality both with several reflections on biblical stories and specific myths. Apocalyptic texts introduce a number of angelic and cosmological myths that provide a metaphysical setting for sexual behavior, often blaming human misconduct on supernatural causes. Particularly influential is the myth of the “Watchers”—supernatural entities that indulged in sexual liaisons with human women who were eventually transformed into sirens as punishment (2 En. 39: 1, 60: 24–25, 69: 2–12; Sib. Or. 1–2, 3: 110–155; 2 Bar. 3: 26–28; L.A.B. 34: 1–5; T. Sol. 2: 4, 5:3 –8; cf. also Gen. 6: 1–4; Loader 2007, pp. 6–60, 2011, pp. 32–37). Nevertheless, much of this literature characteristically also praises female beauty as well as showing anxiety for female sexual vulnerability to rape and sexual violence (e.g., 4 Ezra 10: 22, 2 Bar. 27: 11, 44: 2, T. Job 39: 1–2). This literature usually expects women to be beautiful and obedient (Ilan 1995, p. 61) as well as aware of their fragility. This implies a pessimistic view of female sexuality common to the Hellenistic culture in which many of these texts were composed. Unregulated female sexuality involves intrinsic dangers. In contrast, moderate heterosexual sexuality between a marital couple is positively emphasized and usually contrasted with “sexual impurity” (Jub. 20: 6), a category that includes (a) incest, (b) adultery, (c) prostitution, (d) intermarriage, (e) same‐sex relations among men, (f) bestiality, and so on. These illicit sexual practices are not infrequently used to define and stigmatize non‐Jewish nations, their customs, and their politics. (a) The biblical prohibition of incest is accepted in most of these texts as a basic principle of decent behavior. They do not innovate beyond the biblical rulings, but rather manipulate the trope of incest figuratively as a rhetorical but not realistic ­allegation against the Gentiles and their secular powers (Sib. Or. 5: 387–396, 7: 42–45; Himmelfarb 1999). (b) These texts also accept the biblical punishment for adultery as informative of basic sexual behavior (Sir. 23: 18–21, L.A.B. 11: 10. 44: 6–7, 4 Macc. 2: 4–6). Some texts use the levitical term zimah (“wickedness”) to describe most components of this transgression. Consequently, some writings proscribe adultery in harsh language (Sir. 25: 2, 42: 8) and not uncommonly caution against divorcing and remarrying the same woman (Sir. 25: 256, Ps. Phoc. 199–200). Nevertheless, some of this literature appears to tolerate but not recommend multiple marriages (Ps.-Phoc. 205–206), although it is unclear whether these same texts specify polygamy/ polygyny, which was in cultural decline, or second marriage after divorce (Loader 2011, p. 504). (c) As an “improvement” on the biblical tradition, these texts often prohibit ­intermarriage with all Gentiles (see also Ezra 9 and Neh. 13). Thus Jubilees and Tobit both severely restrict miscegenation. The abhorrence of intermarriage relies on  the misogynistic presupposition that all women, but especially foreign women, are  the ultimate source of sexual wrongdoings (Loader 2007, p. 157). Endogamy, therefore, manifests a moral and cultural concern for the people’s integrity as a nation

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(2 Bar. 42: 4–5, 48: 22–24, and 60: 1–2). As anticipated, the abhorrence of intermarriage is usually consistent with the heteronormative ideology supporting a patriarchal household that is explicitly maintained in Tobit and Sirach by insisting both on ­honorability (Tob. 40: 19, 23) and sexual fidelity (Sir. 25: 8, 26: 15, and 40: 23; Himmelfarb 1999). (d) The term prostitution, designated either with the Hebrew term zenut or the Greek porneia, generally describes any kind of sexual misconduct that contrasts with the biblical heteronormative principles. Prostitution in its strictest sense—hiring someone for sex and any correlated legal issues—is treated only marginally but is still stigmatized as a potential illicit behavior, especially when taking place in religious and sacral contexts (L.A.B. 2: 7–8, Ep. Jer. 42–43, Sib. Or. 3: 43–44), as in the case of Jewish female prostitution in payment for vows (Van der Toorn 1989). (e) Same‐sex relations among males are strongly stigmatized and often associated with other sexual transgressions that appear less at issue in the Hebrew Bible: pederasty and male prostitution. Many texts (e.g., Sib. Or., Ps‐Arist., and Ps.‐Pho.) attack Greco‐ Roman society for their indulgence in same‐sex relations among males and also attribute to it a demonic character (T. Sol.). Just as the biblical rulings emphatically prohibit same‐ sex relations among males and neglect same‐sex relations among females, so do most of these other Jewish texts. (f) Other biblical rulings on sexuality—such as polygamy, pedophilia, intercourse with servants, and bestiality—are marginally treated and often associated with a few minor themes: celibacy and sexual asceticism. The lack of interest in these specific themes wanes in parallel to the lack of interest in ritual purity issues in favor of more ethical and moral issues. Nevertheless, purity remains a “live” issue at Qumran.

Qumran The community at Qumran tended to expand the biblical priestly laws of ritual purity to the nation as a whole (Shemesh 1998; Wassen 2005), thus exhibiting a complex attitude toward sexuality, as reflected also in its expansive and varied “library” that incorporated at least three pseudepigraphic works: 1 Enoch, Aramaic Levi, and Jubilees. The immense Qumran corpus, consisting of biblical, legal, liturgical, and sapiential texts, highlights sexuality in ways similar to several characteristics of other pseudepigraphical and early Jewish texts (Vermes 1974). The Qumranites’ strong interest in purity laws is characteristic of their sectarian nature and reflects the biblical principle of establishing Israel as a “separate nation” (Lev. 15: 31). As a result, the Qumranites normalized sexuality through the lens of ritual purity, expanding its parameters and rulings. Similarly, the Qumran corpus stigmatizes illicit sexual acts with derogatory terminology and morally negative terms, such as “shame,” “disgrace,” and “corruption,” following Jubilees (4Q222; Loader 2011, p