"It’s better to hear the rebuke of the wise than the song of fools" (Qoh 7:5): Proceedings of the Midrash Section, Society of Biblical Literature, Volume 6 9781463236809

This volume contains selected proceedings of the Midrash Section sessions convened during the 2012-2014 meetings of the

205 130 2MB

English Pages 200 Year 2015

Report DMCA / Copyright


Polecaj historie

"It’s better to hear the rebuke of the wise than the song of fools" (Qoh 7:5): Proceedings of the Midrash Section, Society of Biblical Literature, Volume 6

Citation preview

“It’s better to hear the rebuke of the wise than the song of fools” (Qoh 7:5)

Judaism in Context

18 Series Editors Lieve Teugels Rivka Ulmer Naomi Koltun-Fromm

Judaism in Context contains monographs and edited collections focusing on the relations between Jews, Judaism, and Jewish culture and other peoples, religions, and cultures among whom Jews have lived and flourished.

“It’s better to hear the rebuke of the wise than the song of fools” (Qoh 7:5)

Proceedings of the Midrash Section, Society of Biblical Literature, Volume 6

Edited by

W. David Nelson Rivka Ulmer


34 2015

Gorgias Press LLC, 954 River Road, Piscataway, NJ, 08854, USA www.gorgiaspress.com Copyright © 2015 by Gorgias Press LLC

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. 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, scanning or otherwise without the prior written permission of Gorgias Press LLC. 2015



ISBN 978-1-4632-0560-7

ISSN 1935-6978

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Society of Biblical Literature. Midrash Section. Meeting (2012-2014) “It’s better to hear the rebuke of the wise than the song of fools” (Qoh 7:5) : proceedings of the Midrash Section, Society of Biblical Literature, volume 6 / edited by W. David Nelson ; edited by Rivka Ulmer. pages cm. -- (Judaism in context ; volume 18) 1. Midrash--History and criticism--Congresses. I. Nelson, David W., editor. II. Ulmer, Rivka, editor. III. Title. BM514.S635 2015 296.1’406--dc23 2015031513 Printed in the United States of America

TABLE OF CONTENTS Table of Contents ..................................................................................... v Introduction ............................................................................................ vii

1. Ancient Jewish and Christian Exegeses of the ‘Curse of Ham’: Divergent Strategies against the Background of Ancient Views on Slavery............................................................... 1 Ilaria Ramelli 2. Jacob’s Double: A Reduplicative Confabulation of PostBiblical Literature .......................................................................... 53 Steven Daniel Sacks 3. The Holy of Holies or the Holiest? Rabbi Akiva’s Characterization of Song of Songs in Mishnah Yadayim 3:5... 63 Jonathan Kaplan 4. The Spirit among the Sages: Seder Olam, the End of Prophecy, and Sagely Illumination ................................................................ 83 Nehemia Polen 5. Blessed be He, Who Remembered the Earlier Deeds and Overlooks the Later – Prayer, Benedictions, and Liturgy in the New Rhetoric Garb of Late Midrashic Traditions ............................ 95 Lennart Lehmhaus 6. The Role of Small Forms in Pirqei deRabbi Eliezer ..................141 Katharina Keim 7. Inner-Biblical Exegesis in Rashbam’s Commentary on Qohelet..........................................................................................167 Jonathan Jacobs


INTRODUCTION The present volume, the sixth volume of Proceedings of the Midrash Section of the Society of Biblical Literature, contains selected papers and analyses on topics related to the Bible, Biblical interpretation, midrashic works, and parshanut. 1 Ilaria Ramelli explores ancient Jewish and Christian interpretations of the Biblical episode of the “Curse of Ham,” in order to show the different positions they advanced with respect to its purported endorsement of the institution of slavery. Some exegetes applied this Scriptural passage to the birth of slavery as an institution, and were predisposed thereby to legitimize this institution as grounded in a divine decree. This view paralleled the Aristotelian theory of viewing slavery as part of “nature.” Other exegetes only gave a moral-based interpretation of the kind of slavery involved in this Biblical episode, much in the same way as the Stoics understood it. However, as was the case with most Stoics, the exegetes who followed along these lines generally did not deem the institution of slavery illegitimate and were uninterested in promoting either its abolition or, at the very least, the emancipation of as many slaves as possible. However, both in ancient Judaism (especially Hellenistic Judaism) and in early Christianity there were ascetic groups and individuals who both rejected outright slavery as an institution and contested its legitimacy. Either they disregarded totally the Biblical episode of the “Curse of Ham” or they did not consider it to be any endorsement of the institution of slavery whatsoever. In this connection, Ramelli argues for the strong relation between 1

We are grateful to Rabbi Moshe Ulmer, JD, for his help.




asceticism and the rejection of slavery in ancient Judaism and Christianity. Steven Daniel Sacks researches the “doubling” of the patriarch Jacob. One great mystery of early post-Biblical interpretation is the idea that the patriarch Jacob is split into many personalities and manifestations, both human and angelic. In apocryphal works such as The Prayer of Joseph and The Ladder of Jacob (1st Century C.E.), the writings of Philo (1st Century C.E.), the Gnostic treatise “On the Origin of the World” (4th Century C.E.), Manichean hymns from Turfan (6-8th Century? C.E.), and Hekhalot literature (6-8th Century C.E.), there is extensive speculation on the separation and interaction between and among the identities of the patriarch as Jacob or Israel, the nation that bears his name, and a heavenly power named Jacob/Israel, who holds divine titles, powers, and perhaps even a primordial origin. The rabbinic attempts to represent this complexity in the two Jacobs found in Genesis Rabbah and b. Ḥullin, for example, are no different in orientation and concern from these non-rabbinic parallels; Jacob is doubled not because the sages wish to use Jacob as a metaphor or a symbol, but rather because they see plurality as a characteristic feature of Jacob in Scripture, which grows, multiplies and develops in concert with these parallel, post-Biblical attempts to address the theological diversity, national identity and competing movements of their time. These parallels, therefore, should be a key means through which we seek to understand the unusual representations of the patriarch that are present throughout rabbinic literature. Rabbinic literature fully participates in this shared environment and understanding of the patriarch, including the entire spectrum of human, national, and angelic identities that these Scriptural ambiguities generate among post-Biblical interpreters. An allegorical or symbolic interpretation of these traditions in rabbinic literature provides a haven from less palatable ideas of nonrabbinic literature regarding angels, theology and national selfconception. A more balanced conception of the rabbis can be achieved from a view of their work in situ, in conversation with other interpretive traditions, and within their conversation about the reflection of myth and theology in Scripture and in their world. Jonathan Kaplan focuses upon the characterization of the Song of Songs in Mishnah Yadayim 3:5, which is a prominent source in scholarly discussions about the development of the Biblical canon



and the canonical status of Song of Songs in the first centuries of the Common Era. At the conclusion of an extended discussion about which Scriptural texts do and do not “render the hands impure,” Rabbi Akiva states: “For all the writings are holy [‫]קדש‬, but Song of Songs is ‫קדש קדשים‬.” Is ‫ קדש קדשים‬a simple superlative, “holiest,” or should it be understood as a more theologically significant reference to the inner sanctum of the Temple, “the Holy of Holies,” as some recent commentators suggest? Kaplan argues that the interpretation of ‫ קדש קדשים‬as a superlative expression is preferable on philological and contextual grounds. Additionally, he briefly examines the history of interpretation of Mishnah Yadayim 3:5 and discusses the appearance of the interpretation of ‫קדשים‬ ‫“( קדש‬holiest”) in this passage as ‫“( קדש הקדשים‬the Holy of Holies”). This interpretation only arises in Jewish literature relatively late in the 13th century C.E. mystical work, the Zohar. Nehemia Polen states that the rabbinic sages have been typically assumed both to have used rational principles of exegesis to interpret Scripture and to have eschewed illuminated interpretation as found in Qumran. His chapter shows how a belief in sagely truth, based on divine proximity rather than human reason, is already evidenced in the early text Seder Olam. If this text is situated well before the end of the Tannaitic period, then the impact on the study of early rabbinics promises to be wide-ranging and significant. Polen provides one significant example of how he thinks this might unfold. Katharina Keim investigates Pirqe de-Rabbi Eliezer, a distinctive Palestinian work of the early Geonic era. Often classified as a late midrash, Pirqe R. El. engages in exposition of Scripture. The work shadows narratives and topics from Genesis and Exodus, beginning with the pre-mundane creation and ending with the wanderings of the Israelites in the wilderness and the giving of the Torah on Sinai, with occasional forays into passages from other parts of the Tanakh deemed to relate thematically to the passage from Genesis or Exodus in hand. One important feature of the literary texture of Pirqe R. El. is that it uses a variety of small forms. By “small form” Keim means a small, standardized, self-limiting textual structure into which a variety of content can be “poured,” such as Biblical lemma + comment units, prooftext units, speech reports, Question and Answer units, lists, meshalim and others. These units would have been well-known to the readership of Pirqe R. El. from earlier



classic rabbinic literature, particularly from early midrashic traditions. Indeed, they can be seen as one of the defining literary features of the midrashic genre. Her purpose in the present chapter is: (1) to identify some of the key small forms used in Pirqe R. El.; (2) to consider how the precise articulation of the form in Pirqe R. El. relates to the form as found in antecedent rabbinic texts; and, (3) to analyze how small forms function at a structural and literarygeneric level in Pirqe R. El. Lennart Lehmhaus investigates a blessing formula, “Blessed be He, who remembered the earlier deeds and overlooks the later,” in late midrashic literature. Despite the important role that prayers, benediction and liturgy play as vivid elements of Jewish life, scholarship on the cultural history of these elements has played rather a marginal role for a long time. Earlier scholarship on liturgy, prayer and minhag largely focused on the immediate context of the Jewish prayer books (siddurim). Most studies mined rabbinic literature and Geonic responsa only for relevant liturgical halakhah, or scholars looked for accounts of prayer, attested in Talmudic and midrashic sources, as evidence for the early formation history of Jewish liturgy (e.g., the Amidah/Birkat ha-minim, etc., in the Mishnah). However, new perspectives and new approaches have come into play during the last three decades, the strict separation or seclusion of scholarly sub-fields in Jewish Studies has begun to disintegrate, and former academic boundaries are now blurred. This is evidenced not only by the recent interest in the interplay between Midrash and Piyyut, but also by the increased interest in the literary and social functions of prayers, benedictions and other liturgical elements. Whereas earlier scholarship on prayer focused primarily on the siddurim and liturgical Halakhah, recent studies have shown that other genres, such as later midrashic traditions, might be an important source for the formation of liturgy, prayer, and minhag. Pirqe R. El., as recent studies have shown, provides the text with some etiological narratives to authorize certain rituals. Additionally, quotations or allusions to the benedictions of the Amidah are integrated into the text’s discourse as summarizing and concluding devices for a discussion or a chapter. Jonathan Jacobs investigates Rashbam’s commentary on Qohelet (Ecclesiastes). One of the most distinctive features of the Biblical commentaries of Rashbam (Rabbi Samuel b. Meir, c. 1080c.1160) is their extensive reliance on inner-Biblical exegesis. In



explaining a particular verse, Rashbam often cites other Biblical verses which, to his view, contribute to an understanding of the passage in question. Despite the centrality of this phenomenon in his works, Rashbam’s inner-Biblical exegesis has received scant scholarly attention. The author of the commentary on Qohelet does devote attention to the structure of the Biblical book. An examination of the inner-Biblical exegesis in Rashbam’s commentary on Qohelet reveals the diverse ways in which Rashbam makes use of verses cited. A comparison of the use of verses cited in his commentary on the Pentateuch with their use in the commentary on Qohelet would appear to add a further consideration in support of those maintaining that the same scholar, Rashbam, is the author of both commentaries. W. David Nelson Rivka Ulmer Erev Tishʿah B’Av, 5775


ANCIENT JEWISH AND CHRISTIAN EXEGESES OF THE “CURSE OF HAM”: DIVERGENT STRATEGIES AGAINST THE BACKGROUND OF ANCIENT VIEWS ON SLAVERY ILARIA RAMELLI CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY OF THE SACRED HEART, MILANO, ITALY THOMAS AQUINAS UNIVERSITY (ANGELICUM), ROME, ITALY HARVARD UNIVERSITY, CAMBRIDGE ERFURT UNIVERSITY, GERMANY OXFORD UNIVERSITY, UNITED KINGDOM This paper explores ancient Jewish and Christian interpretations of the Biblical episode of the “Curse of Ham,” in order to show the different positions they advanced with respect to its purported endorsement of the institution of slavery. Some exegetes applied this Scriptural passage to the birth of slavery as an institution, and tended thereby to legitimize this institution as grounded in a divine decree. This view paralleled the Aristotelian theorization of slavery “by nature.” Other exegetes only gave a moral interpretation of the kind of slavery involved in this Biblical episode, and tended to understand moral slavery much in the same way as the Stoics understood it. The exegetes who followed along these lines, though, as was the case with most Stoics as well, generally did not deem the institution of slavery illegitimate and were uninterested in promoting its abolition or at least the emancipation of as many 1



slaves as possible. However, both in ancient Judaism (especially Hellenistic Judaism) and in early Christianity there were ascetic groups and individuals who rejected slavery as an institution and contested its legitimacy outright. Either they disregarded totally the Biblical episode of the “Curse of Ham” or they did not consider it to be any endorsement of the institution of slavery at all. In this connection, I will argue for the strong relation between asceticism and the rejection of slavery in ancient Judaism and Christianity.


Moses Mielziner maintained that slavery almost did not exist in ancient Judaism, 1 and that ancient Judaism was in fact close to the very abolition of the institution of slavery. However, contemporary research, especially by Solomon Zeitlin, 2 Dale Martin, 3 and above all Catherine Hezser, has shown that the opposite was the case: “For ancient Jews just as for Greeks and Romans slavery was an everyday experience whose existence was taken for granted, whose practicalities were discussed by legal scholars, and which was repeatedly alluded to in literary, philosophical, and historiographic works.” 4 Slaves of both Jewish and non-Jewish origin were held by Jewish masters in antiquity; though in rabbinic times it is improbable that Jews were held slaves by Jews, unless their Jewish origins were not simply wiped away in the process of depriving Moses Mielziner, Die Verhältnisse der Sklaven bei den alten Hebräern, nach biblischen und talmudischen Quellen dargestellt. Ein Beitrag zur hebräischjüdischen Alterthumskunde, (Copenhagen, 1859), 7–10. 2 Solomon Zeitlin, “Slavery During the Second Commonwealth and the Tannaitic Period,” Jewish Quarterly Review, 53 (1962–63), 194–198. 3 Dale B. Martin, ‘Slavery and the Ancient Jewish Family,’ in Shaye J. D. Cohen, ed., The Jewish Family in Antiquity, Brown Judaic Studies 289 (Atlanta: SBL, 1993), 113–116. 4 Catherine Hezser, Jewish Slavery in Antiquity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 2. 1

JEWISH AND CHRISTIAN EXEGESES OF THE “CURSE OF HAM” 3 slaves of their ancestry and nationality. 5 Also, while Roman slave owners held the power of life and death over their slaves, in Jewish society their rights of punishment seem to have been somewhat more limited. 6 However, in ancient Judaism, apart from few significant exceptions in the sphere of asceticism that I shall point out, slavery was a recognized and well present institution. The Hebrew Bible reflects Jewish ownership of slaves, either born at home or purchased, as early as in Gen 12:16, 26:12, and 32:5 (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob buy slaves along with animals), and 17:12–13. 7 As for the distinctive episode of the “Curse of Ham,” I will devote a specific treatment to it in the next section. The whole story of Joseph in Gen 37–50 is about an enslavement by selling and a dramatic advancement of a slave’s career in Egypt. David and Solomon, as well as Job are represented as owners of many slaves, 8 and some royal slaves are even portrayed as slave owners themselves (2 Sam 9:10). Accordingly, the Hebrew Bible includes precise regulations concerning slave ownership that can be compared with the slavery laws found in the Codex of Hammurabi stemming from the 18th century B.C.E. The effectiveness of these regulations and the actual, historical application of the Biblical law on slavery are uncertain. Two groups of regulations can be singled out in the Torah: one, harsher, applicable to Canaanite slaves, and another one, less harsh, applicable to Jewish slaves. This opposition is also particularly relevant to the interpretation of the “Curse of Ham,” as I will indicate. In the Roman world, the norms applicable to the Canaanite slaves would seem to have been extended to all non-Jewish slaves. See Catherine Hezser, ‘The Social Status of Slaves in the Talmud Yerushalmi and in Graeco-Roman Society,’ in Peter Schäfer, ed., The Talmud Yerushalmi and Graeco-Roman Culture, vol. 3, Texts and Studies in Ancient Judaism 93 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2002), 108. 6 Hezser, Jewish Slavery, 202–212. 7 But, according to Gen 16 and 30:4.7, if a foreign slave woman had children with an Israelite man, these had to be considered legitimate offspring of the father’s house and heirs. 8 E.g. 2 Sam 6:20–22; 1 Kgs 9:22; Job 1:3. 5



The set of regulations applicable to Jewish slaves is found in Lev 25:39-43—and not only: see below—while that applicable to Canaanite slaves is found in Lev 25:45-46. Both passages, which belong to the same chapter of Leviticus, are reproduced below in the RSV translation from the Hebrew, where the key word for “slave” is ebed, meaning both “slave” and, more generically, “servant.” In the Greek translation of the Septuagint, the terms for “slave” in this chapter, vv. 39-46, are οἰκέτης and δοῦλος, both referring to slaves; in the Vulgate, the Latin translation conducted by Jerome (late fourth – early fifth cent. C.E.) from the Hebrew, the relevant terms are famulus and servus, both of which, again, could refer to slaves. Unlike non-Jewish slaves, who were reduced to slavery usually by means of war captivity, Jewish people could become slaves because they were unable to pay a debt, 9 or more generally due to severe poverty. In Amos 2:6 the Lord, however, rebukes the Israelites for selling and buying the poor and the needy; the same situation is criticized in Neh 5:1–5, even though it was apparently allowed by the Law. If it became impossible for poor or indebted people to survive otherwise, they would sell themselves to a Jewish owner. This is the situation presupposed by Lev 25:39. Portions of the text cited in this chapter have been italicized for purposes of emphasis. Following is the whole of Chapter 25 of Leviticus: 1 The LORD said to Moses on Mount Sinai, 2 “Say to the people of Israel, When you come into the land which I give you, the land shall keep a Sabbath to the LORD. 3 Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in its fruits; 4 but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the LORD; you shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. 5 What grows of itself in your harvest you shall not reap, and the grapes of your undressed vine you shall not gather; it shall be a year of solemn rest for the land. 6 The Sabbath of the land shall provide food for you, for yourself and for your male and female slaves and for your hired servant and the sojourner who


E.g. 2 Kgs 4:1; Prov 22:7.

JEWISH AND CHRISTIAN EXEGESES OF THE “CURSE OF HAM” 5 lives with you; 7 for your cattle also and for the beasts that are in your land all its yield shall be for food.

8 “And you shall count seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the time of the seven weeks of years shall be to you forty-nine years. 9 Then you shall send abroad the loud trumpet on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the day of atonement you shall send abroad the trumpet throughout all your land. 10 And you shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants; it shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his family. 11 A jubilee shall that fiftieth year be to you; in it you shall neither sow, nor reap what grows of itself, nor gather the grapes from the undressed vines. 12 For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you; you shall eat what it yields out of the field. 13 "In this year of jubilee each of you shall return to his property. 14 And if you sell to your neighbor or buy from your neighbor, you shall not wrong one another. 15 According to the number of years after the jubilee, you shall buy from your neighbor, and according to the number of years for crops he shall sell to you. 16 If the years are many you shall increase the price, and if the years are few you shall diminish the price, for it is the number of the crops that he is selling to you. 17 You shall not wrong one another, but you shall fear your God; for I am the LORD your God. 18 Therefore you shall do my statutes, and keep my ordinances and perform them; so you will dwell in the land securely. 19 The land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill, and dwell in it securely. 20 And if you say, ‘What shall we eat in the seventh year, if we may not sow or gather in our crop?’ 21 I will command my blessing upon you in the sixth year, so that it will bring forth fruit for three years. 22 When you sow in the eighth year, you will be eating old produce; until the ninth year, when its produce comes in, you shall eat the old. 23 The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with me. 24 And in all the country you possess, you shall grant a redemption of the land. 25 If your brother becomes poor, and sells part of his property, then his next of kin shall come and redeem what his brother has sold. 26 If a


ILARIA RAMELLI man has no one to redeem it, and then himself becomes prosperous and finds sufficient means to redeem it, 27 let him reckon the years since he sold it and pay back the overpayment to the man to whom he sold it; and he shall return to his property. 28 But if he has not sufficient means to get it back for himself, then what he sold shall remain in the hand of him who bought it until the year of jubilee; in the jubilee it shall be released, and he shall return to his property. 29 If a man sells a dwelling house in a walled city, he may redeem it within a whole year after its sale; for a full year he shall have the right of redemption. 30 If it is not redeemed within a full year, then the house that is in the walled city shall be made sure in perpetuity to him who bought it, throughout his generations; it shall not be released in the jubilee. 31 But the houses of the villages which have no wall around them shall be reckoned with the fields of the country; they may be redeemed, and they shall be released in the jubilee. 32 Nevertheless the cities of the Levites, the houses in the cities of their possession, the Levites may redeem at any time. 33 And if one of the Levites does not exercise his right of redemption, then the house that was sold in a city of their possession shall be released in the jubilee; for the houses in the cities of the Levites are their possession among the people of Israel. 34 But the fields of common land belonging to their cities may not be sold; for that is their perpetual possession. 35 And if your brother becomes poor, and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall maintain him; as a stranger and a sojourner he shall live with you. 36 Take no interest from him or increase, but fear your God; that your brother may live beside you. 37 You shall not lend him your money at interest, nor give him your food for profit. 38 I am the LORD your God, who brought you forth out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan, and to be your God.

39 And if your brother becomes poor beside you, and sells himself to you, you shall not make him serve as a slave: 40 he shall be with you as a hired servant and as a sojourner. He shall serve with you until the year of the jubilee; 41 then he shall go out from you, he and his children with him, and go back to his own family, and return to the possession of his fathers. 42 For they are my servants, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves. 43

JEWISH AND CHRISTIAN EXEGESES OF THE “CURSE OF HAM” 7 You shall not rule over him with harshness, but shall fear your God. 44 As for your male and female slaves whom you may have: you may buy male and female slaves from among the nations that are round about you. 45 You may also buy from among the strangers who sojourn with you and their families that are with you, who have been born in your land; and they may be your property. 46 You may bequeath them to your sons after you, to inherit as a possession for ever; you may make slaves of them, but over your brethren the people of Israel you shall not rule, one over another, with harshness. 47 If a stranger or sojourner with you becomes rich, and your brother beside him becomes poor and sells himself to the stranger or sojourner with you, or to a member of the stranger's family, 48 then after he is sold he may be redeemed; one of his brothers may redeem him, 49 or his uncle, or his cousin may redeem him, or a near kinsman belonging to his family may redeem him; or if he grows rich he may redeem himself. 50 He shall reckon with him who bought him from the year when he sold himself to him until the year of jubilee, and the price of his release shall be according to the number of years; the time he was with his owner shall be rated as the time of a hired servant. 51 If there are still many years, according to them he shall refund out of the price paid for him the price for his redemption. 52 If there remain but a few years until the year of jubilee, he shall make a reckoning with him; according to the years of service due from him he shall refund the money for his redemption. 53 As a servant hired year by year shall he be with him; he shall not rule with harshness over him in your sight. 54 And if he is not redeemed by these means, then he shall be released in the year of jubilee, he and his children with him. 55 For to me the people of Israel are servants, they are my servants whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.”

Based on these regulations, Jewish slaves were not even slaves proper, but they were treated as servants, and were released after seven years of service. As is clear from the whole passage above, this release granted to Jewish slaves on the sabbatical year parallels the sabbatical rest granted to the very land possessed by the Jewish people, and to the return of the property, on the occasion of a jubilee, to the Jew who had sold it to another Jew. The laws



applicable to non-Jewish slaves were harsher: they could not hope for a sabbatical release. They could be owned their whole life long, and bequeathed to the owner’s children or heirs. The rationale of the distinction between Jewish and nonJewish slaves and their respective treatments is given at v. 42: the Jews are the slaves of God, so they cannot be slaves of any other Jew, nor possibly of anyone else: “They are my servants, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves.” 10 This rationale is emphasized again at v. 55: “For to me the people of Israel are servants, they are my servants whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.” The Israelites are slaves of God, not of any human being. This is why at v. 47ff. their emancipation from foreign owners, or ransom, is recommended. This is also why Deut 24:7 is peremptory against Jews who kidnapped another Jew and sold him into slavery: the kidnapper had to be put to death. Deut 15:12–18, which comes in the context of norms regarding sabbatical remissions of various sorts, reiterates and enriches the regulation concerning the sabbatical release of Hebrew slaves, giving the same regulation for men and women alike and adding the detail that a slave may decide not to take advantage of the opportunity of the sabbatical release, if he or she prefers to remain with his or her master and family: 12 If your brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you, he shall serve you six years, and in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you. 13 And when you let him go free from you, you shall not let him go empty-handed; 14 you shall furnish him liberally out of your flock, out of your threshing floor, and out of your wine press; as the LORD your God has blessed you, you shall give to him. 15 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God

Monette Bohrmann, Valeurs du judaïsme du début de notre ère (Bern: Lang, 2000), 149–161 on this basis observes that slavery among Jews was limited not only by the social organization, but also by the Biblical tradition. Briefly on the Biblical distinction between Hebrew and Canaanite slaves see Hezser, Jewish Slavery, 29–31. 10

JEWISH AND CHRISTIAN EXEGESES OF THE “CURSE OF HAM” 9 redeemed you; therefore I command you this today. 16 But if he says to you, “I will not go out from you”, because he loves you and your household, since he fares well with you, 17 then you shall take an awl, and thrust it through his ear into the door, and he shall be your bondman for ever. And to your bondwoman you shall do likewise. 18 It shall not seem hard to you, when you let him go free from you; for at half the cost of a hired servant he has served you six years. So the LORD your God will bless you in all that you do. (RSV)

Ex 21:1–11 sets out the same commands regarding Hebrew slaves and their sabbatical release, adding details concerning their possible family: 1 Now these are the ordinances which you shall set before them. 2 When you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, and in the seventh he shall go out free, for nothing. 3 If he comes in single, he shall go out single; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. 4 If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s and he shall go out alone. 5 But if the slave plainly says, “I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free”, 6 then his master shall bring him to God, and he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost; and his master shall bore his ear through with an awl; and he shall serve him for life.

7 When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. 8 If she does not please her master, who has designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed; he shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has dealt faithlessly with her. 9 If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her as with a daughter. 10 If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, or her marital rights. 11 And if he does not do these three things for


ILARIA RAMELLI her, she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money. (RSV) 11

Verses 7 to 11 concern another particular case: that of a man who sells his daughter into slavery. Her owner seems to be bound to marry her or have her married by his son, or else set her free. Here it is left unclarified whether this female slave, once married, should still be regarded as a slave. But it is possible that the legislator is not speaking here of a legitimate marriage; the same is the case with Deut 21:10–14 on a woman enslaved during a war and taken by the conqueror as a concubine and later set free. Although Philo interpreted this text as a reference to a legitimate marriage (On Virtues 111–112), this point is very doubtful. In Lev 19:19–22 sexual relations between male masters and female slaves are discouraged, at least in case the slave is betrothed to someone else. This, on the same grounds as the sowing of a field with two kinds of seeds or the mingling of two kinds of animals are prohibited: “19 You shall keep my statutes. You shall not let your cattle breed with a different kind; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed; nor shall there come upon you a garment of cloth made of two kinds of stuff. 20 If a man lies carnally with a woman who is a slave, betrothed to another man and not yet ransomed or given her freedom, an inquiry shall be held. They shall not be put to death, because she was not free; 21 but he shall bring a guilt offering for himself to the LORD, to the door of the tent of meeting, a ram for a guilt offering. 22 And the priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering before the LORD for his sin which he has committed; and the sin which he has committed shall be forgiven him” (RSV). In Ex 21:26–27, another regulation concerning slavery discourages severe beating and maiming of slaves, apparently regardless of their Jewish or non-Jewish origin. It commands that a slave should be freed if he or she has been harmed to the extent that his or her injury is contemplated by the lex talionis: “When a This passage is commented on by Niels P. Lemche, “The ‘Hebrew Slave’: Comments on the Slave Law Ex. xxi 2–11,” VT 25 (1975), 129– 144. 11

JEWISH AND CHRISTIAN EXEGESES OF THE “CURSE OF HAM”11 man strikes the eye of his slave, male or female, and destroys it, he shall let the slave go free for the eye’s sake. 27 If he knocks out the tooth of his slave, male or female, he shall let the slave go free for the tooth’s sake.” In case the killer of a slave is not a person, but an animal, a reimbursement is established: “If an ox gores a slave, male or female, the owner shall give to their master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned” (Ex 21:32). In Ex 21:16, the illegal possession or selling of a slave is punished most severely, with death, again regardless of the ethnic origin of the stolen person: “Whoever steals a man, whether he sells him or is found in possession of him, shall be put to death.” In Ex 21:20–21 there is a regulation for the not specified punishment for the killing of one’s own slave on the spot: “When a man strikes his slave, male or female, with a rod and the slave dies under his hand, he shall be punished. 21 But if the slave survives a day or two, he is not to be punished; for the slave is his money.” The ambiguity between the assessment of the slave as a human life and the evaluation of the slave as a mere possession of the owner emerges clearly from v. 21. Again, it is not stated whether this applies to Jewish slaves, to non-Jewish slaves—the so-called Canaanite slaves—or both. Jeremiah 34:8–22 reinforces the aforementioned principle that Jews were not to be kept slaves by Jews, and describes how God punished the Israelites for not obeying God’s laws on slavery: 6 Then Jeremiah the prophet spoke all these words to Zedekiah king of Judah, in Jerusalem, 7 when the army of the king of Babylon was fighting against Jerusalem and against all the cities of Judah that were left, Lachish and Azekah; for these were the only fortified cities of Judah that remained.

8 The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD, after King Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people in Jerusalem to make a proclamation of liberty to them, 9 that every one should set free his Hebrew slaves, male and female, so that no one should enslave a Jew, his brother. 10 And they obeyed, all the princes and all the people who had entered into the covenant that every one would set free his slave, male or female, so that they would not be enslaved again; they obeyed and set them free. 11 But afterward they turned around and took back the male and female slaves they had set free, and brought them into subjection as slaves.


ILARIA RAMELLI 12 The word of the LORD came to Jeremiah from the LORD: 13 “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: I made a covenant with your fathers when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, saying, 14 At the end of six years each of you must set free the fellow Hebrew who has been sold to you and has served you six years; you must set him free from your service. But your fathers did not listen to me or incline their ears to me. 15 You recently repented and did what was right in my eyes by proclaiming liberty, each to his neighbor, and you made a covenant before me in the house which is called by my name; 16 but then you turned around and profaned my name when each of you took back his male and female slaves, whom you had set free according to their desire, and you brought them into subjection to be your slaves. 17 Therefore, thus says the LORD: You have not obeyed me by proclaiming liberty, every one to his brother and to his neighbor; behold, I proclaim to you liberty to the sword, to pestilence, and to famine, says the LORD. I will make you a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth. 18 And the men who transgressed my covenant and did not keep the terms of the covenant which they made before me, I will make like the calf which they cut in two and passed between its parts—19 the princes of Judah, the princes of Jerusalem, the eunuchs, the priests, and all the people of the land who passed between the parts of the calf; 20 and I will give them into the hand of their enemies and into the hand of those who seek their lives. Their dead bodies shall be food for the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth. 21 And Zedekiah king of Judah, and his princes I will give into the hand of their enemies and into the hand of those who seek their lives, into the hand of the army of the king of Babylon which has withdrawn from you. 22 Behold, I will command, says the LORD, and will bring them back to this city; and they will fight against it, and take it, and burn it with fire. I will make the cities of Judah a desolation without inhabitant”. (RSV)

Verse 9 is peremptory: “No one should enslave a Jew, his brother.” The whole story, however, denounces a transgression, the result of which is that Jewish people owned both non-Jewish and Jewish slaves. In the first century C.E., the New Testament includes

JEWISH AND CHRISTIAN EXEGESES OF THE “CURSE OF HAM”13 several parables in which slaves appear; these may reflect Jewish societies in the Roman world. However, being rhetorical devices, they cannot be taken as descriptive, historical reports; they represent no evidence that Jews at that time owned Jewish or nonJewish slaves, and how many. Other, more explicit, normative passages about slaves in the Pauline corpus surely reflect the presence of slaves in early Christian communities, but the owners of these slaves may have been both “pagans” and diaspora Jews. 12 It must be noted that in the Hebrew Bible there are many mentions of slaves, both in historical and in sapiential books. Violence against slaves was so common, and so widely accepted, as to enter wisdom lore. Thus, for instance, in Sir 23:10 it is regarded as common sense that “a slave [οἰκέτης] who is regularly watched will not lack bruises.” On the other hand, the woman slave of Judith in the homonymous LXX book is depicted as her faithful help and as the one in charge of all of Judith’s property. Esther and Susanna in their books are also depicted as accompanied by female slaves. In the fifth-century B.C.E. Elephantine papyri, too, Jewish women are likewise attested as slave owners. In a more symbolic context, Isaiah’s suffering slave of the Lord is a slave who has been beaten to death, but whose bruises are a source of healing for other people: “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed” (Isa 53:5, RSV). The slave beaten to death is also the slave of the Lord, and therefore righteous, and even producer of righteousness in other people. In the Bible being a slave of God is a very good kind of slavery. This characterization will continue in Christian Patristic authors. Being slaves of the Lord is consistently presented in the Bible as a particularly desirable and commendable condition. Abraham (Gen 26:24), Moses, 13 David, 14 the prophets, 15 Joshua For an analysis of these NT passages see my Legitimacy of Slavery and Social Injustice? Ancient Christian Views against the Backdrop of Greek Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press), forthcoming. 13 Ex 14:31; Josh 1:1; 1 Chron 6:49; 2 Chron 24:9; Dan 9:11. 14 E.g. 1 Kgs 11:13; 2 Sam 3:18; Ps 18:1; 36:1. 12



(Jos 24:29), Samson (Judg 15:18), and the entire people of Israel 16 are presented as servants or slaves of the Lord, δοῦλοι in the LXX. In Qumran literature, the “slaves of God” are opposed to the “slaves of evil.” One servant of the Lord was later detached by Christian interpreters as a prefiguration of Christ and his salvific sacrifice: it is the above-mentioned suffering slave of the Lord described in Isa 52–53: 13 Behold, my servant / child shall prosper, he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high. 14 As many were astonished at him—his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the sons of men— 15 so shall he startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which has not been told them they shall see, and that which they have not heard they shall understand.

53:1 Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? 2 For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like

E.g. Jer 7:25; 2 Kgs 9:7; Ez 38:17. Isa 42:1, which Christian exegetes would refer to Jesus Christ, also because of the clear reference in Matt 12:18. 15 16

JEWISH AND CHRISTIAN EXEGESES OF THE “CURSE OF HAM”15 a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? 9 And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it was the will of the LORD to bruise him; he has put him to grief; when he makes himself an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand; 11 he shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous; and he shall bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out his soul to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isa 52:13-53:12, RSV)

All Patristic exegetes will interpret this beaten slave—called both δοῦλος and παῖς in the Septuagint—as a typological figure of Jesus Christ. In 52:13 in particular the Septuagint does not use δοῦλος or οἰκέτης for “servant,” but παῖς, which also can be rendered with “child,” even if all current translations usually opt for “servant” even here. “My child” is the child of the Lord. At 53:2, indeed, instead of “he grew up before him like a young plant,” the Septuagint reads ἀνηγγείλαμεν ἐναντίον αὐτοῦ ὠς παιδίον, which Christians would interpret as a reference to the birth of Christ as a small child. In Greek παιδίον is a diminutive of παῖς. Thus, the mysterious figure in Isa 52–53 is characterized as both the slave of God and the child of God.


Before turning to the only explicit exceptions to slave ownership in ancient Judaism, found among ascetics, it is necessary to pay



attention to a key text, that of the so-called Curse of Ham, which in fact becomes a curse of Canaan, his son, due to a fault of his father 17 (Gen 9:18–27): 18 The sons of Noah who went forth from the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Ham was the father of Canaan. 19 These three were the sons of Noah; and from these the whole earth was peopled. 20 Noah was the first tiller of the soil. He planted a vineyard; 21 and he drank of the wine, and became drunk, and lay uncovered in his tent. 22 And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. 23 Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it upon both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father; their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father's nakedness. 24 When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, 25 he said, “Cursed be Canaan; a slave of slaves shall he be to his brothers.” 26 He also said, “Blessed by the LORD my God be Shem; and let Canaan be his slave. 27 God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem; and let Canaan be his slave.” (RSV)

This is the first occurrence of the word “slave” (‫ )דבע‬in the Pentateuch. It is interesting to note that in Lev 25, in the regulations concerning Jewish and non-Jewish slaves, there is no reference to this story to justify the enslavement of Canaanite or even, more generally, non-Jewish people. According to David Goldenberg, this passage in Gen 9:18–27 was construed as a justification of black slavery only by later, non-Jewish exegetes,

For the apparent absurdity that Ham sinned and the one who was cursed is not he, but his son, see David M. Goldenberg, The Curse of Ham: Race and Slavery in Early Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), 157–167. A similar curse entailing perpetual slavery was launched by Joshua against the Gibeonites (Josh 9:23); see Hezser, Jewish Slavery, 63. 17

JEWISH AND CHRISTIAN EXEGESES OF THE “CURSE OF HAM”17 who reasoned on the basis of racist categories. 18 Indeed, this provided the main Biblical support for American slavery. 19 This puzzling episode is commented on in Hellenistic Jewish works, in works from the Pseudepigrapha and the Dead Sea Scrolls fragment, and in numerous rabbinic midrashic sources, as well as in early Christian writers. In general, midrashic readings of this episode are not allegorical as are those of Philo, Origen, and other Christian exegetes. The Ham narrative in itself seems to have aimed at offering an etiology of the subjection of the Canaanites to the Hebrews, and of the different Biblical regulations concerning Canaanite and Israelite slaves (on which see above). Indeed, in the Mishnah, Qiddushin 1.3, and the Babylonian Talmud, Baba Mezia 71a, a non-Jewish slave is called “a Canaanite slave.” And the difference between Jewish and Canaanite slaves, with a reference to Deut 15:12 and 17, is emphasized in Tanhuma Noah 14: “Resh Laqish said: Behold, those from Ham are slaves forever, but the children of Shem go forth into the world free… Here, however, it is a slave of slaves, that is, a slave who does not take his freedom and never goes away.” Here it is notable, however, that the descendants of Ham in general, and not specifically those of Canaan, are said to be cursed with slavery. This is consistent with the circumstance that it is Ham who is said to have “treated his father with contempt.” The identity of the perpetrator of the misdeed, and the exact nature of the misdeed Goldenberg, The Curse of Ham. See also David M. Whitford, The Curse of Ham in the Early Modern Era: The Bible and the Justifications for Slavery (Burlington: Ashgate, 2009). For the question of Ham’s “blackness” see Goldenberg, The Curse of Ham, 141–156. See also ibid. 211ff. “Appendix II: Kush/Ethiopia and India” on which cf. my Gli apostoli in India nella Patristica e nella letteratura sanscrita, in collaboration with Cristano Dognini (Milan: Medusa, 2001), and eadem, “Early Christian Missions from Alexandria to ‘India’: Institutional Transformations and Geographical Identification,” Augustinianum 51 (2011), 221–231. 19 See, e.g., Stephen R. Haynes, Noah’s Curse: The Biblical Justification of American Slavery (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002); David M. Whitford, The Curse of Ham in the Early Modern Era: The Bible and the Justifications for Slavery (Burlington: Ashgate, 2009). 18



itself, as I will show, are crucial exegetical issues in Rabbinic interpretations of this baffling episode. Tanhuma Shemini 5 and 11 cast the blame on Noah, who became drunk and as a result cursed his son; hence the recommendation not to drink wine; several Rabbinic texts connect this episode with the dangers of drinking wine (e.g., Numbers Rabbah 10:2). This aspect, however, is not directly relevant to the present investigation, which focuses on slavery and how the “Curse of Ham” was interpreted in this connection. Another minority explanation is found in a midrash in Numbers Rabbah 10.2: “‘Cursed be Canaan,’ by which he meant Ham, who was his third son and was called the father of Canaan.” On this interpretation, the curse of Canaan was indeed the curse of Ham. This rather isolated hermeneutical key is obviously intended to remove the oddity that Ham sinned and Canaan was cursed. This is indeed the main problem that both midrashic and patristic interpreters had to face in the Ham-Canaan episode. Midrash Genesis Rabbah 36.7 begins precisely with the startling issue: “Ham sinned and Canaan is cursed.” Commenting on Gen 9:22, “and Ham, the father of Canaan, saw,” both Tanhuma Noah 14-15 and Genesis Rabbah 36.7 report the view of some rabbis who tried to explain away the aforementioned difficulty by attaching a part of the responsibility to Canaan: “There are those among our rabbis who say that Canaan saw and told his father, and this is why Canaan was mentioned with regard to the matter and was cursed.” Genesis Rabbah 36.7 further explains that Canaan was conceived in the Ark, against God’s commandment to abstain from intercourse in the Ark. Likewise the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 108b, states: “Our rabbis taught: Three had intercourse in the ark, and they were all punished—the dog, the raven, and Ham. The dog was doomed to be tied, the raven expectorates, and Ham was smitten in his skin” (only later did this last detail become explicitly associated with dark skin 20). The kabbalistic Zohar, 1.72b–73a, in the 13th See David Goldenberg, “The Curse of Ham: A Case of Rabbinic Racism?” in Jack Salzman, ed., Struggles in the Promised Land: Toward a History of Black-Jewish Relations in the United States (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 21–52; Werner Solors, Neither Black nor White Yet 20

JEWISH AND CHRISTIAN EXEGESES OF THE “CURSE OF HAM”19 century also seems to attribute much responsibility to Canaan himself and even associates Canaan with the devil: “And Ham was the father of Canaan, the refuse and dross of the gold, the stirring and rousing of the unclean spirit of the ancient serpent. It is for that reason that it is written the ‘father of Canaan’ who brought curses into the world, of Canaan who was cursed, of Canaan who darkened the faces of humankind… Canaan, i.e. the worlddarkener.” Canaan is cursed like the ancient serpent. Earlier Jewish and palaeo-Christian literature, represented by the Book of Jubilees, Qumran literature, and mid-second-century C.E. Justin Martyr, endeavored to explain the curse of Canaan—instead of the curse of Ham—having recourse to the previous blessing of Noah’s sons, which would have been incompatible with a curse of Ham himself, or else suggesting that Canaan sinned through Ham. Book of Jubilees 22:21, where Rebecca warns her son not to take a Canaanite wife, implies that Canaan sinned through his father (a notion that reminds one of the Christian theory of original sin as the sin of all humanity in Adam): “through the sin of Ham, Canaan sinned, and all of his seed will be blotted out.” Jubilees has also an alternative, and more widespread, explanation at 7:9ff: Noah was unable to curse Ham because he had already been blessed by God along with his brothers. Rabbi Judah similarly claimed that “the curse cannot coexist with a blessing” (Tanhuma Noah 14). The same explanation already occurred in 4Q252, a pesher on Genesis from the second half of the first century B.C.E., fr. 1, col. 2.5b–7: “And Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, and said, ‘Cursed be Canaan, a slave of slaves shall he be to his brothers.’ And he did not curse Ham, but rather his son, because God had already blessed the sons of Noah. 21 ‘And let him live in the tents of Shem.’” That in Qumranic texts the curse of Canaan for Ham was perceived as problematic is suggested also by Genesis Apocryphon, which retells the story of Genesis, even including the first wine tasted by Noah, but makes no mention of Noah’s nakedness or the Both: Thematic Explorations of Interracial Literature (Boston: Harvard University Press, 1999), 87. 21 Gen 9:1.



curse. This was probably as embarrassing. Shortly afterwards, possibly on the basis of midrashic material, or in the light of Josephus AI 1.142, Justin Martyr († 165 C.E.) offers the same explanation as 4Q252 and Jubilees: “in the blessings with which Noah blessed his two sons, and in the curse pronounced on his son’s son. For the Spirit of prophecy would not curse the son that had been by God blessed along with (his brothers). But since the punishment of the sin would cleave to the whole descent of the son that mocked at his father’s nakedness, he made the curse originate with his son” (Tryph. 139). Justin historically interpreted the curse of Ham as the origin of Canaanite slavery, only to contrast it with the true freedom coming from Christ, who will give all, slaves and free, the promised land of paradise. In Genesis Rabbah 36.7 an alternative, radical, but relatively popular explanation is given, namely that Ham emasculated Noah, who therefore said to Ham: “You prevented me from doing that which is done in the dark (by mutilating me); thus may your progeny be black and ugly” 22 and “Rabbi Huna said in Rabbi Joseph’s name: [Noah said], ‘You have prevented from me from begetting a fourth son (by mutilating me), this is why I curse your fourth son,’” and “Rabbi Berekiah said: Noah grieved very much in the Ark that he had no young son to wait on him, and declared, ‘When I go out I will beget a young son to do this for me.’ But when Ham acted thus to him, he exclaimed, ‘You have prevented me (by mutilating me) from begetting a young son to serve me, therefore that man [sc. Canaan] will be a servant to his brothers!’” On the scholarly debate on the association of the cursed progeny of Canaan with the black color see Jamal-Dominique Hopkins, “The Noahic Curse in Rabbinic Literature: Racialized Hermeneutics or Ethnocentric Exegesis,” in W. David Nelson and Rivka Ulmer, eds., RePresenting Texts: Jewish and Black Biblical Interpretation, Judaism in Context 16 (Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2013), 25–38; Rebecca Alpert, “Translating Rabbinic Texts on the Curse of Ham: What We Learn from Charles Copher and his Critics,” ibid. 39–50, about African-American Biblical scholar Charles Copher, Black Biblical Studies: An Anthology of Charles B. Copher: Biblical and Theological Issues on the Black Presence in the Bible (Chicago: Black Light Fellowship, 1993). 22

JEWISH AND CHRISTIAN EXEGESES OF THE “CURSE OF HAM”21 The same interpretation of Ham’s misdeed as the mutilation of his father Noah emerges in Midrash Leviticus Rabbah 17:5: “when Ham castrated him, Canaan was punished.” Also in Tanhuma Noah 14, the same opinion of Rabbi Berekiah is reported. 23 The Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 70a, records a debate between two Jewish sages, Rav and Samuel. The former also maintained that Ham castrated Noah, the latter that Ham sodomized him: 24 “And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him. Rav and Samuel (disagree,) one maintaining that he castrated him, while the other says that he sexually abused him. He who maintains that he castrated him (argues:) Since Noah cursed Ham by his fourth son [sc. Canaan], he must have injured him with respect to a fourth son. But he who says that he sexually abused him, draws an analogy between “and he saw” written twice. Here it is written, ‘And Ham the father of Canaan saw the nakedness of his father’; while elsewhere it is written, ‘And when Shechem the son of Hamor saw her (he lay with her and defiled her).’ Now, on the view that he emasculated him, it is right that he cursed him by his fourth son; but on the view that he abused him, why did he curse his fourth son? He should have cursed him himself. Both indignities were perpetrated.” This passage is paralleled in the Jerusalem Talmud, Taʿanit 1.6, 64d. The eighth-century Pirqe de-Rabbi Eliezer 23 also interprets the misdeed as an emasculation, but, unlike Genesis Rabbah and Sanhedrin, identifies Canaan as the perpetrator, evidently in an effort to explain why he, and not Ham, was cursed: “Canaan entered and saw the nakedness of Noah, and he bound a thread (where the mark of) the covenant was, and emasculated him. He went forth and told his brethren. Ham entered and saw his nakedness. He did not take to heart the duty of honoring (one’s father). But he told his two brothers in the market, making sport of his father… Noah awoke from his wine, and he knew what the younger son of Ham See also Targum Pseudo-Jonathan on Genesis 9:24–25. David Goldenberg, “The Words of a Wise Man’s Mouth are Gracious (Qoh 10:12),” in Festschrift Günter Stemberger, ed. Mauro Perani (Walter de Gruyter: Berlin, 2005), 257–265. 23 24



[sc. Canaan] had done him, and he cursed him [sc. Canaan], as it is said, ‘And he said, Cursed be Canaan.’” 25 This midrash takes “his younger son” at v. 24 to mean Noah’s son, and not Ham’s son; in this way, it can attach the responsibility for the mutilation of Noah to Canaan. Pirqe de-Rabbi Eliezer 24 also describes the apportioning of the earth to the sons of Noah under the form of their blessing: “He blessed Noah and his sons, as it says: ‘And God blessed them,’ i.e. with their gifts, and he apportioned the entire earth to them as an inheritance. He blessed Shem and his sons black and beautiful and he gave them the habitable earth. He blessed Ham and his sons black as the raven and he gave them the sea coasts. He blessed Japheth and his sons all of them white and he gave them the desert and fields. These are the portions he gave them as an inheritance.” If not the blessing of Ham himself, surely the blessing of his sons is contradicted by the cursing of Canaan. Some consequences of this curse are described in the Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 87a: many of the sons of Canaan were worthy of becoming rabbis, but the guilt of their father impeded this development. God, however, albeit cursing Canaan, made him a slave, that he might be supplied with food and drink by his master (Yoma 75a). According to Albert Baumgarten, the rabbis developed the theory of castration as an explanation for features of the text; thus, they are not transmitting an ancient tradition. 26 However, this mutilation theory is first attested in an early Christian author, Theophilus of Antioch, Ad Autolycum 3.19. Also, the Sibylline Oracles 3.110–116 link Ham with Kronos, who emasculated his father and took his place. Thus, this theory emerged at least in the second century C.E., if not earlier. A mythological parallel, moreover, can be observed not only in the Greek myth of Kronos, but also in an Transl. Friedlander. Albert I. Baumgarten, “Myth and Midrash: Genesis 9:20–29,” in Christianity, Judaism, and Other Greco-Roman Cults: Studies for Morton Smith at Sixty, ed. Jacob Neusner et al.; 4 vols (Leiden: Brill, 1975), 3:55–71, against Robert Graves and Raphael Patai, Hebrew Myths: The Book of Genesis (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1966), 121–122. 25 26

JEWISH AND CHRISTIAN EXEGESES OF THE “CURSE OF HAM”23 analogous Hittite myth of emasculation of one’s father and usurpation of his reign. An alternative explanation, which we have already encountered in Samuel’s exegesis in Sanhedrin 70a, is based on the interpretation of seeing someone’s nakedness as meaning to have intercourse with that person, with reference, e.g., to Lev 20:17. Hence Samuel’s hypothesis that Ham had intercourse with Noah. 27 A parallel possibility—raised not by the rabbis, but by modern scholars—is that Ham had an incestuous relationship with his mother, Noah’s wife. 28 This is based on the interpretation of to “uncover the nakedness” of a man as to have intercourse with his wife, as suggested by Lev 20:11. On this exegesis, Canaan would be the offspring of his incest; this would be the reason why he is cursed. Other rabbinic interpretations seem to correct similar exegeses—of the kind: Ham mutilated or sodomized Noah, or lay with his mother—by insisting that Ham really merely looked at Noah and did nothing else. For instance, Exodus Rabbah 30.5: “God said: Ham the father of Canaan did not hit, but only looked at (Noah). Now he and his descendants are slaves forever. How much more so one who curses or hits his father!” 29 Here the connection between the misdeed of Ham and the enslavement of his progeny is particularly prominent. See, e.g., Martii Nissinen, Homoeroticism in the Biblical World: A Historical Perspective (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1998), 52–53. 28 That Ham committed incest with his mother is maintained, e.g., by F.W. Bassett, “Noah’s Nakedness and the Curse of Canaan: A Case of Incest?” Vetus Testametum 21 (1971) 232–237; John S. Bergsma and Scott W. Hahn, “Noah’s Nakedness and Curse on Canaan,” JBL 124.1 (2005), 25–40. 29 That Ham merely saw his father naked is maintained by several commentators, e.g., Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis Chapters 1–17 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 322–323; Gordon P. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, WBC 1 (Waco: Word, 1987), 198–201; E.A. Speiser, Genesis: Introduction, Translation, and Notes, Anchor Bible 1 (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1964), 61; Kenneth A. Matthews, Genesis 1– 11:26 (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1996), 418–420. 27



The episode of the “Curse of Ham,” as mentioned, probably aimed at providing an etiological explanation of Canaanite slavery, which was regulated by law in the Hebrew Bible and was a fact of everyday life in ancient Judaism, just as in rabbinic Judaism—as I will briefly show in the next paragraph. However, within ancient Judaism there were also groups of people who not only refused to keep Jewish slaves, but even refused to own foreign slaves, and indeed rejected all kinds of slavery altogether.


Rabbinic Judaism is conventionally dated from the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 C.E. onward, 30 down to imperial and late antiquity and further (Classical Rabbinic Judaism reaching to the 7th century C.E.). At the beginning of that period, many Jews were made prisoners and sold into slavery as a result of the campaigns of Titus and Vespasian—despite the fact that one of the leaders of the revolt, Simon bar Giora, specifically “proclaimed freedom for slaves” 31—and of the repression of Bar Kochba’s revolt under Hadrian, to the point that the price of Jewish slaves decreased dramatically due to their large availability. This phenomenon was closely linked to Jewish political subjugation to the Romans. Rabbinic sources reflected on this state. Sifra, the halakhic midrash to Leviticus, reinterpreted Lev 26:13 as an eschatological statement: at the end of times God will deliver Israel from “slavery”—meant primarily as political, as subjection to the Romans, rather than socio-juridical slavery. On the other hand, many Jewish masters continued to own slaves throughout the rabbinic age, and some Rabbis themselves are represented as slave owners, such as Rabban Gamaliel and his sons Yehudah and Hillel, and others. 32 See I. Ramelli, “The Jesus Movement’s Flight to Pella and the ‘Parting of the Ways,’” Augustinianum 54 (2014), 35–51. 31 Δούλοις ἐλευθερίαν, Josephus BI 4.508. This may have been an appropriation of the Messianic promises of Isa 61:1–4, which Jesus of Nazareth too had appropriated. 32 See Hezser, Jewish Slavery, 294–296. 30

JEWISH AND CHRISTIAN EXEGESES OF THE “CURSE OF HAM”25 Rabbinic positions concerning slavery, and possibly some hints of the historical situation regarding Jewish slave ownership at that time, can be gleaned mainly from the slavery regulations found in Mishnaic and Talmudic documents. These normative texts cannot be taken as descriptive of Jewish society at that time, since the extent to which they were followed is unclear; however, these regulations certainly reflect rabbinic perspectives on the issue of slavery. The most remarkable difference between Biblical and rabbinic regulations lies in the almost complete lack of distinction between rules concerning Jewish slaves and rules concerning nonJewish slaves in rabbinic Judaism. 33 That many slaves in Jewish households were Jewish is suggested by the Rabbis’ efforts to discourage Jewish slave owners from selling their own slaves on gentile markets, 34 surely out of fear that the slaves would enter gentile houses and become “pagan.” But only a scanty minority of the Mishnah passages regarding slaves keep the distinction between Jewish and non-Jewish slaves, and this generally only in Scriptural exegetical contexts (likewise, in such contexts one finds the assimilation of slaves to animals, e.g. in Genesis Rabbah 56.2; cf. also y. Ber. 2.8.5b). 35 Consistently with this, the privilege of the sabbatical release of Jewish slaves seems to vanish. On the other hand, the possibility of the manumission of a Jewish as well as a non-Jewish slave appears, but there seems to have been a concern that gentile slaves would contaminate the whole family; as a consequence, it was prescribed that gentile male slaves be circumcised and gentile female slaves immersed— circumcision and immersion being, as it seems, tantamount to a

See P.V. McC. Flesher, Oxen, Women, or Citizens? Slaves in the System of the Mishnah (Atlanta: Scholars, 1988), esp. 35–63. 34 Hezser, Jewish Slavery, 257 and 314 35 Contrast Mishnah Yad. 4.7, where slaves, unlike animals, are attributed understanding, but only to be liable to punishment for damages they have caused. Some examples of Rabbinic texts in which a lenient and respectful treatment of Jewish slaves is recommended are offered by Hezser, Jewish Slavery, 99–100. 33



semi-conversion, and only entailing adherence to the negative Mosaic commandments. 36


Not only in Judaism itself, but in antiquity in general, the Essenes and the Therapeutae, 37 both Jewish ascetic groups—whatever the Hezser, Jewish Slavery, 37–38. Philo on the Therapeutae: e.g. Valentin Nikiprowetzky, “Les suppliants chez Philon d’Alexandrie,” in Id., Études philoniennes (Paris, 1996), 11–43; Laura Gusella, Esperienze di comunità nel Giudaismo antico (Florence: Nerbini, 2003); Joan E. Taylor, Jewish Women Philosophers of FirstCentury Alexandria (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), who considers the Therapeutae to have practiced a strong allegoresis. Philo’s presentation of the Therapeutae should not be held as fictional according to Per Bilde, “The Essenes in Philo and Josephus,” in F.H. Cryer and T.L. Thompson, eds., Qumran between the Old and the New Testaments (Sheffield: Academic Press, 1998), 32–68, Otto Betz, “The Essenes,” in W. Horbury, W.D. Davies and J. Sturdy, eds., The Cambridge History of Judaism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 3.444–470, and Manuel Alexandre, “The Eloquent Philosopher in Philo’s De Vita Contemplativa,” Euphrosyne 29 (2001), 319–330; it is a πλαϖσμα according to Troels Engberg-Pedersen, “Philo’s De vita contemplativa as a Philosopher’s Dream,” JSJ 30 (1999): 40–64 and David Brakke, “Origins and Authenticity,” in Beyond Reception: Mutual Influences between Antique Religion, Judaism, and Early Christianity, ed. Id., A.C. Lund-Jacobsen and J. Ulrich (Bern: Lang, 2006), 175–189, esp. 176–178; contra Mary A. Beavis, “Philo’s Therapeutae: Philosopher’s Dream or Utopian Construction,” JSP 14 (2004), 30–42; C. Deutsch, “The Therapeutae,” in April D. DeConick, ed., Paradise Now: Essays on Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism (Atlanta: SBL, 2006), 287–311. Richard Finn, Asceticism in the Greco-Roman World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), ch. 2, deems the Therapeutae close to Levites, while Philo depicts them in a philosophical light. Philo’s writings on the Essenes in Prob. 75–91 and ap. Eus. PE 8.11.1–18 is critically analysed by Joan E. Taylor, “Philo of Alexandria on the Essenes,” SPhA 19 (2007), 1–28. The identification of the Qumran 36 37

JEWISH AND CHRISTIAN EXEGESES OF THE “CURSE OF HAM”27 relation that may have existed between them—are solely credited with unequivocally refusing both to keep slaves and to recognize slavery as an institution, on the grounds of natural equality and kinship among all human beings and of an evaluation of slavery as intrinsically unjust. This presupposes a strong link between equality and justice. 38 In Every Good Person is Free (Quod omnis probus liber sit) 79, the Jewish exegete and Platonizing philosopher Philo of Alexandria is speaking of the Essenes, the “Jewish sages” whom he says to be superior in sanctity to all other sages with regard to “love for God, for virtue, and for human beings” (83). Philo informs that these Essenes are over four thousand and that their name derives from “holiness/purity” (ὁσιότης)—which already suggests some form of asceticism 39—and describes them as “servants of God” (θεραπευταὶ Θεοῦ), οn account of “their will to make their interior dispositions worthy of the divinity” (75). This description, therapeutae of God, may indicate a connection with the Therapeutae, to whom he devoted a whole treatise: On Contemplative Life (De vita contemplativa). Some of the Essenes, Philo reports, practice agriculture, and others practice other jobs that contribute to peace; no one produces arms or practices commerce: they avoid all that can arouse cupidity (78). They share their possessions as well as their meals and homes (86) in a context of deep reciprocal people with Essenes was recently supported again by Kenneth Atkinson and Jody Magness, “Josephus’s Essenes and the Qumran Community,” JBL 129 (2010), 317–342. 38 This link is explored by K. Uhalde, “Justice and Equality,” in S. Johnson, ed., The Oxford Handbook of Late Antiquity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 764–788, though not in connection with the Essenes and the Therapeutae. 39 The same etymology appears in a quotation from Philo’s “apology for the Jews” reported by Eusebius (PE 11.1), where it is also said that the Essenes were ascetics both with regard to sexual renunciation (PE 11.14) and with regard to renunciation of property and the communality of all goods (PE 11.4). Porphyry, who was deeply interested in asceticism, cited the Essenes in his De abstinentia (a passage reported also by Eusebius PE 9.3) as the only example of ascetics among the Jews.



solidarity (87). It is very important to notice that what inspired these ascetic practices is identified with the ideal of “freedom, which escapes every slavery” (88). This is also why, as will soon be examined, these Jewish ascetics rejected slavery both de jure and de facto. The ascetic lifestyle of the Essenes is described in more detail in a substantial section of Josephus’s The Jewish War (Bellum Iudaicum 2.120–161), where he mentions the Essenes along with the Pharisees and the Sadducees as the main currents of Judaism in his day. 40 Here the “holiness/purity” of the Essenes is again emphasized, 41 together with their rejection of pleasure as a vice and their embracing “temperance and control of passions” and sexual renunciation (120), even if some of them did marry, but only for the sake of begetting children (160–161). They “despise riches” and practice “communality of goods”, with the result that among them “one will nowhere see either abject poverty or inordinate wealth” (122). 42 In this crucial point the corresponding Slavonic tradition has: “They have no kind of property, but among them all things are communal, both clothes and food.” When new members enter the community, “all the resources of the community are put at their Edouard-Marie Gallez, Le Messie et son prophète. Aux origines de l’Islam, vol. 1 (Paris: éditions de Paris, 2012), 71–82 argues that the long passage on the Essenes in the extant Greek of BI 2.119–166, and in the correspondent Slavonic version, is in fact an interpolation drawing on the Philosophoumena ascribed to Hippolytus, 9.18–29, where the Essenes are again presented as practicing sexual abstinence and the pursuit of justice. Other scholars deem the Philosophoumena passage based on Josephus. 41 It is possible that the name Ἑσσαῖοι is a Hellenized form of Ḥassidim, Ḥassid, meaning “pious, holy.” Many other etymologies have been proposed; see James C. VanderKam, “Identity and History of the Community,” in idem and Peter W. Flint, eds., The Dead Sea Scrolls after Fifty Years: A Comprehensive Assessment (Leiden: Brill, 1999), vol. 2, 487–533. 42 The similarity with the first Christian community is striking, but see Brian J. Capper, “The Interpretation of Acts 5.4,” JSNT 19 (1983), 117–131; idem, “‘In der Hand des Ananias’. Erwägungen zu 1QS VI,20 und der urchristlichen Gütergemeinschaft,” Revue de Qumran 12 (1986) 223–236. 40

JEWISH AND CHRISTIAN EXEGESES OF THE “CURSE OF HAM”29 disposal, just as though they were their own” (124). They change their garments and shoes only when they are worn out and “there is no buying or selling among them, but each gives what he has to any in need, and receives from him in exchange what is useful to himself. They are also freely permitted to take anything from any of their siblings without making any return” (127). Josephus expands on their everyday life devoted to work, prayer, bathing, and frugal common meals (128–132), the long novitiate for candidates (137– 139), and the four grades of seniority (149–150). 43 They observe silence, render “assistance and compassion”, and “help those deserving, when in need, and supply food to the destitute,” but also avoid any swearing (133–135). The last point was also recommended by Jesus of Nazareth (Matt 5:34–36). The vow that the Essenes made consisted in piety toward the deity, justice toward human beings, wronging nobody, hating injustice, keeping faith with all human beings, loving truth, abstaining from stealing, from unholy gain, and from robbery (139–142). They never judge anyone without a court of 100 members and unconditionally obey their elders (145–146). Thanks to the simplicity of their diet and lifestyle of ascetics, they live very long, most of them over one century, resist pain, and do not fear death, as it was especially clear during the war against the Romans: even after tortures, “they cheerfully resigned their lives, confident that they would receive them back again” (151–153). Indeed, the Essenes’ anthropological and eschatological ideas are summarized, and perhaps somehow Hellenized, in 154–157 as follows: the body is corruptible, but the soul is immortal—what Philo too thought, at least in the case of virtuous souls—and, after being imprisoned in the body, once it is “released from the bonds of flesh,” if it is virtuous, it goes to a kind of locus amoenus; otherwise to “unceasing torments.” The aim of this Essene doctrine, according to Josephus, was to promote virtue and deter people from vice. The Essenes are For a comparison between Josephus’s detailed report and the book findings at Qumran see Todd Beall, Josephus’ Description of the Essenes Illustrated by the Dead Sea Scrolls (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988). I do not intend to address the debated question whether an Essene community lived at Qumran. 43



said by Josephus to be scattered in many towns in large numbers (124). Pliny the Elder († 79 C.E.) shortly after mid first century in his Investigation on Nature (NH 5.73) does not speak of the Essenes’ renunciation of slave ownership, but he does remark upon their asceticism, in terms of both sexual renunciation (omni venere abdicata) and renunciation of possessions and money (sine pecunia). Their ascetic lifestyle, according to Pliny, originated from a desire of repentance. 44 Now Philo reports in Quod omnis probus 79 that these ascetics, the Essenes, not only kept no slaves at all (“there is no slave among them, but all are free”), but also rejected the very institution of slavery. They “denounced slave owners not only because of their injustice in violating the law of equality, but also due to their impiety in infringing the statute of Nature, who, like a mother, bore and reared all human beings alike, and created them genuine brothers, not simply in name, but in very reality.” This can sound like some Stoic lore, but these people’s radical application of their conviction in everyday practice makes it something more. These ascetics simply refused to keep any slave, while most Stoics clearly did not refrain from owning some or even many, as in Seneca’s case. The same passage by Philo confirms this: “It is impossible to find even just one slave among them. On the contrary, all of them are free and serve each other.” This, as shall be pointed out in a moment, was also the lifestyle of the Therapeutae according to our sources. Josephus, later in the first century C.E., in his Jewish Antiquities (Antiquitates Iudaicae 18.21) fully confirms Philo’s testimony when he reports that the Essenes kept no slaves because slavery is “Ab occidente litora Esseni fugiunt usque qua nocent, gens sola et in toto orbe praeter ceteras mira, sine ulla femina, omni venere abdicata, sine pecunia, socia palmarum. in diem ex aequo convenarum turba renascitur, large frequentantibus quos vita fessos ad mores eorum fortuna fluctibus agit. ita per saeculorum milia—incredibile dictu—gens aeterna est, in qua nemo nascitur. tam fecunda illis aliorum vitae paenitentia est! infra hos Engada oppidum fuit, secundum ab Hierosolymis fertilitate palmetorumque nemoribus, nunc alterum bustum. inde Masada castellum in rupe, et ipsum haut procul Asphaltite. et hactenus Iudaea est.” 44

JEWISH AND CHRISTIAN EXEGESES OF THE “CURSE OF HAM”31 tantamount to injustice (ἀδικία). 45 This implies that the Essenes did not simply reject slave ownership in the same way as they renounced other possessions, 46 as though the rejection of slavery were merely part and parcel of these ascetics’ vow of lack of property (ἀκτημοσύνη) and self-sufficiency (αὐτάρκεια). Rather, they renounced keeping any slave because they realized the intrinsic injustice of the slavery institution itself. This supposition is further proved by the end of Philo’s passage on the Essenes’ rejection of slavery in Quod omnis probus 79: the Essenes qualified the “injustice” and “impiety” that brought about the institution of slavery in terms of “arrogance and avarice.” The natural kinship and equality of all human beings, they maintained, was blurred by “the triumph of the vicious arrogance and avarice” of some who began to oppress other people. The pursuit of a life of virtue immediately implied the rejection of these which are among the worst vices. The project of these ascetics, both Essenes and—as shall be shown in a moment—Therapeutae, was certainly elitist, at least in that it only involved isolated ascetic groups, but it was undoubtedly radical in the refusal of slavery both de jure and de facto. Philo in On Contemplative Life or De vita contemplativa makes the rejection of slavery a core feature of the Therapeutae, first in a moral sense, in 18–20, and then in a literal sense, in 70–72. In Cont. 18–20 Philo describes these people as “no longer slaves of anybody” precisely because they have renounced all of their On this shorter report by Josephus in AI 18.18–22 see John Strugnell, “Josephus and the Essenes,” JBL 77.2 (1958), 106–115. On Josephus, Philo, and Pliny on the Essenes see Gallez, Le Messie et son prophète, 41–84; Geza Vermes and Martin Goodmann, The Essenes According to the Classical Sources (JSOT Suppl.; Sheffield: Oxford Centre for Postgraduate Hebrew Studies, 1989). 46 M. Philonenko, “Les origines esséniennes de l’ascétisme chrétien,” in Brigitte Pérez-Jean, ed., Les Dialectiques de l’ascèse (Paris: Garnier, 2011), 19–24. On the Essenes after the Jewish revolt and their possible relation with the Jesus movement see Joshua Ezra Burns, “Essene Sectarianism and Social Differentiation in Judaea After 70 C.E,” HTR 99.3 (2006), 247–274. 45



possessions—including slaves—and all of their relatives, the bond with whom “makes people slaves outright.” In the very next sentence, a similitude with slaves is directly brought to the fore: the Therapeutae do not move from one city to another, like those slaves who want to change masters, but do not achieve freedom thanks to this stratagem. Rather, the Therapeutae achieve freedom by abandoning every city once and for all. Here the discourse on slavery and freedom is conducted almost exclusively at a metaphorical level; the question is of moral and spiritual, and not juridical, freedom. But in Cont. 70–72 Philo is not using the largely Stoic metaphor of slavery in the sense of moral slavery; he rather testifies to the Therapeutae’s radical rejection of the very institution of slavery and, notably, links this to their asceticism: (70.) διακονοῦνται δὲ οὐχ ὑπ’ ἀνδραπόδων, ἡγούμενοι συνόλως τὴν θεραπόντων κτῆσιν εἶναι παρὰ φύσιν· ἡ μὲν γὰρ ἐλευθέρους ἅπαντας γεγέννηκεν, αἱ δέ τινων ἀδικίαι καὶ πλεονεξίαι ζηλωσάντων τὴν ἀρχέκακον ἀνισότητα

καταζεύξασαι τὸ ἐπὶ τοῖς ἀσθενεστέροις κράτος τοῖς δυνατωτέροις ἀνῆψαν. (71.) ἐν δὴ τῷ ἱερῷ τούτῳ συμποσίῳ δοῦλος μὲν ὡς ἔφην οὐδείς, ἐλεύθεροι δὲ ὑπηρετοῦσι, τὰς διακονικὰς χρείας ἐπιτελοῦντες οὐ πρὸς βίαν οὐδὲ προστάξεις ἀναμένοντες, ἀλλ’ ἐθελουσίῳ γνώμῃ φθάνοντες μετὰ σπουδῆς καὶ προθυμίας τὰς ἐπικελεύσεις. (72.) οὐδὲ γὰρ οἱ τυχόντες ἐλεύθεροι τάττονται πρὸς ταῖς ὑπουργίαις ταύταις, ἀλλ’ οἱ νέοι τῶν ἐν τῷ συστήματι μετὰ πάσης ἐπιμελείας ἀριστίνδην ἐπικριθέντες, ὃν χρὴ τρόπον ἀστείους καὶ εὐγενεῖς πρὸς ἄκραν ἀρετὴν ἐπειγομένους· οἳ καθάπερ υἱοὶ γνήσιοι φιλοτίμως ἄσμενοι πατράσι καὶ μητράσιν ὑπουργοῦσι, κοινοὺς αὑτῶν γονεῖς νομίζοντες οἰκειοτέρους τῶν ἀφ’ αἵματος, εἴ γε καλοκἀγαθίας οὐδὲν οἰκειότερόν ἐστι τοῖς εὖ φρονοῦσιν· ἄζωστοι δὲ καὶ καθειμένοι τοὺς χιτωνίσκους εἰσίασιν ὑπηρετήσοντες, ἕνεκα τοῦ μηδὲν εἴδωλον ἐπιφέρεσθαι δουλοπρεποῦς σχήματος.

They receive service, but not by slaves, because they deem the possession of servants altogether against nature. For nature has generated all human beings free; it is rather the acts of injustice and arrogance of some people who pursue inequality, the principle of all evils, that, accumulating one upon another, conferred to the stronger power

JEWISH AND CHRISTIAN EXEGESES OF THE “CURSE OF HAM”33 over the weaker. Now, in this holy community, as I have said, nobody is a slave, but it is free people who serve other people, performing the necessary services not by force, nor waiting for orders, but anticipating the requests with zeal and willingness, voluntarily. These services are not performed by any free person, no matter which, but it is rather the young of the group, selected on the basis of their excellence, who do so with every solicitude, in the way that becomes noble and distinguished persons, who strive for the highest virtue. These young people, as legitimate children, diligently and happily serve fathers and mothers, deeming them their own common parents, closer to themselves than their biological parents. For nothing is closer and more familiar to the wise than excellence in virtue. And while they perform these services, they wear no belt and let their short frocks hang down free, to avoid bringing even just a shade of slavish appearance.

The theoretical motivations for the Therapeutae’s rejection of slavery are very similar to those adduced for the Essenes. Indeed, both were ascetic groups stemming from the humus of Hellenistic Judaism and roughly contemporary. Here the reference to the oikeiōsis theory and the intimation of the notion of virtue as the πρῶτον οἰκεῖον, “what is closest and most familiar to oneself,” infuses Stoic elements in Philo’s description. 47 The very principle that by nature all human beings are free fits well with a Stoic framework. However, the Therapeutae did not simply reject slavery in principle, but actually refused to own slaves. Moreover, they did so not merely because they renounced all possessions, among which slaves were counted, and therefore on the mere grounds of a Cynic-Stoic requirement for ἀκτημοσύνη or lack of property, but rather because they considered slavery itself as an institution, to be against nature and an example of inequality, which is a fruit of injustice and arrogance. Here we also see at work the similarity of See my “The Oikeiōsis Doctrine in Gregory of Nyssa’s Theology: Reconstructing His Creative Reception of Stoicism,” forthcoming in the Proceedings of the Twelfth International Colloquium on Gregory of Nyssa, Leuven 14–17 September 2010, and “The Stoic Doctrine of Oikeiōsis and its Transformation by Origen,” forthcoming in Apeiron. 47



arguments against slavery and against social inequalities that will return, as I have pointed out elsewhere, in the most illuminated Patristic thinkers. 48 Among these, Gregory of Nyssa is surely the most illuminated; he was very well acquainted with Philo’s writings, 49 and when he read his description of the Therapeutae’s rejection of slavery he certainly approved of, and was inspired by, it. He certainly also approved of the freedom and promotion that asceticism offered to women, 50 in this case the Therapeutrides, who were “mostly aged virgins.” They are described by Philo as women who “have kept their virginity without being forced to do so, unlike some Greek priestesses, but fully willingly, out of their ardent desire for wisdom.” This element of voluntary choice is what Philo stresses the most in his description, also in connection with the voluntary choice of one’s (spiritual) relatives in the community and with voluntary service or slavery. The younger among the Therapeutae are said to voluntarily serve the elder, after the model of children with their parents. A parallel model of service in ancient Judaism was found in the disciples-Rabbi relation: in rabbinic literature, students were expected to serve their “sage” like slaves, but voluntarily. In Philo’s report, the opposition between natural kinship and the elective kinship of the Therapeutae, involving service to elective parents, can also be compared with the assertion of Jesus (called “rabbi” in the Gospels) that his own relatives were not his natural kin, but all those who obey God and perform the will of God, his Father. 51 In Legitimacy of Slavery and Social Injustice? See at least my “Philosophical Allegoresis of Scripture in Philo and Its Legacy in Gregory of Nyssa,” Studia Philonica Annual 20 (2008), 55–99. 50 On the “liberation” of women thanks to asceticism in imperial and late antiquity see Susanna Elm, Virgins of God (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996); cf. Elizabeth A. Clark, Reading Renunciation. Asceticism and Scripture in Early Christianity (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999), also with the ancient exegetical debate on 1 Cor 7. 51 Mark 3.31–34; Matt 12:46–50; Luke 8:19–21. 48 49

JEWISH AND CHRISTIAN EXEGESES OF THE “CURSE OF HAM”35 In Decal. 2 Philo explains that cities, from which the Therapeutae flee, are full of ἀδικίαι, or all sorts of injustice, against fellow humans. The Therapeutae counted slavery among these, like the Essenes who deemed slavery an ἀδικία or injustice outright. David Hay 52 remarked that Philo did not personally share the Therapeutae’s ideal of equality of genders and absence of slavery; this seems indeed to have been the case, as I will soon show. What is interesting to observe here is that some Christians (first of all Eusebius, HE 2.16–17, who perhaps draws on Clement) 53 considered the Therapeutae described by Philo to be Christians. In this way, these ancient Christian authors idealized and appropriated, albeit unhistorically, ascetics who refused slavery. This is particularly meaningful, all the more so in that, as I have demonstrated elsewhere, the few condemnations of slavery in patristic sources stem from ascetics. Eusebius’s comments on Philo are closely related to his report, derived from Clement, concerning the activity of Mark, the apostle Peter’s disciple and interpreter, in Rome. The occasion for introducing Philo in his account is offered by the above-mentioned identification of the Therapeutae with early Christian ascetics who were influenced by Mark’s apostolic activity in Alexandria. 54 In his description of the Therapeutae, Eusebius goes so far as to find evidence for the existence of Christian institutions such as the diaconate and the episcopate among these alleged early Christian ascetics, both men and women. “The Veiled Thoughts of the Therapeutae,” in R.M. Berchman, ed., Mediators of the Divine (Atlanta: Scholars, 1998), 167–184. Holger Szesnat agrees (“Mostly Aged Virgins,” Neot 91 [1998], 191–201; cf. Joan E. Taylor and Philip R. Davies, “The So-Called Therapeutae,” HThR 91 [1998], 3–24); Joan E. Taylor, “The Women ‘Priests’ of Philo’s De Vita Contemplativa,” in J. Schaberg, A. Bach and E. Fuchs, eds., On the Cutting Edge (London, 2004), 102–122, thinks that the senior Therapeutrides were indeed equal to men. 53 See my “The Birth of the Rome-Alexandria Connection: The Early Sources on Mark and Philo, and the Petrine Tradition,” The Studia Philonica Annual 23 (2011), 69–95. 54 See Sabrina Inowlocki, “Eusebius of Caesarea’s Interpretatio Christiana of Philo’s De vita contemplativa,” HTR 97 (2004), 305–328. 52



This strongly idealized picture of ascetics very clearly entailed also the rejection of slave ownership. It is remarkable that, if Eusebius takes the Therapeutae to be Christians, and in particular Christian ascetic communities, it suggests that Christian ascetics in turn were perceived to be averse to slavery both de facto and perhaps even de jure. The link between Philo and the early Christian community in Alexandria, although historically unfounded, reflects however the probable Jewish roots of Alexandrian Christianity, before the transformation that occurred at the beginning of the second century (115–117 C.E.) when Alexandrian Judaism appears to have been swept away (though there are some scholarly hypotheses that cast doubts on the radical disappearance of Alexandrian Judaism at that point in time 55). Impressive similarities with Origen’s portrait are present in Eusebius’s long description of the Therapeutae—as has been noticed by Grant 56—especially with respect to asceticism and the allegorical exegesis of the Bible. For both the Therapeutae and Origen were ascetics, and both interpreted Scripture allegorically. Both of them, moreover, owned no slaves. Eusebius’s report on Philo continues in HE 2.16–17, where he inserts a new reference to Philo in his Mark story and goes on to expand the Rome-Alexandria connection, which he seems to have inherited from Clement. 57 After reporting Clement’s information about the composition of the Gospel of Mark in Rome, Eusebius goes on with his account of the Therapeutae’s life (possibly based again on material that he found in Clement): The number of men and women who were converted there at the first attempt was so great, and their asceticism was so extraordinarily philosophic, that Philo thought it right to describe their conduct and assemblies and meals and all the rest of their

Maren Niehoff, “A Jewish Critique of Christianity from SecondCentury Alexandria: Revisiting the Jew Mentioned in Contra Celsum,” JECS 21 (2013), 151–175. 56 Robert Grant, Eusebius as a Church Historian (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980), 74. 57 Ramelli, “The Birth of the Rome-Alexandria Connection.” 55

JEWISH AND CHRISTIAN EXEGESES OF THE “CURSE OF HAM”37 manner of life. Tradition says that he came to Rome in the time of Claudius to speak to Peter, who was at that time preaching to those there. This would, indeed, not be improbable, since the treatise to which we refer, composed by him many years later, obviously contains the rules of the church which are still observed in our own time. Moreover, from his very accurate description of the life of our ascetics it will be plain that he not only knew, but welcomed, reverenced, and recognized the divine mission of the apostolic people of his day, who were, it appears, of Hebrew origin, and thus still preserved most of the ancient customs in a strictly Jewish manner.

Asceticism and philosophy, here mentioned as the main characteristics of the first Alexandrian Christians, with whom the Jewish Therapeutae are identified, are also the principal traits ascribed by Eusebius to Origen. In HE 6.3.9 Eusebius describes Origen’s life, fully devoted to study and asceticism, as a φιλοσοφώτατος βίος, “an eminently philosophical life.” This is the same portrait of Origen as was delineated by Pamphilus in his apology for Origen: Uitam abstinentissimam egerit et ualde philosopham (Apol. 9). We see again the association of asceticism and philosophy. No doubt that Eusebius, the devoted disciple of Pamphilus, was inspired by him in this respect. In turn, Pamphilus himself was described by Eusebius as both an ascetic and a philosopher: his life was characterized by philosophical behavior and ascetic discipline, φιλοσόφῳ πολιτεία and ἀσκήσει (Mart. Pal. Gr. 11.2). Indeed, Origen embraced a strict form of asceticism: as we learn from his biography by Eusebius and from his own Letter to Fabianus (preserved in book 6 of Pamphilus’s and Eusebius’s Apology), he limited his sleeping time, slept on the floor, ate little, and stuck to poverty to the extent that for some years he went around barefoot. Under this circumstances it is very probable that he owned no slaves either. In his very writings Origen insisted that Jesus required poverty of his disciples: Christians should possess neither land nor houses, nor even more than one tunic or much



money. 58 Slaves are not even mentioned, but do not seem to be among the permitted possessions. In Homilies on Genesis 16.5 Origen cites Jesus’ words that whoever does not renounce all of his possessions (omnibus quae possidet) cannot be his disciple and remarks upon them emphasizing this point: “Christ declares that one cannot be his disciple if he sees that this person possesses something” (aliquid possidentem). Even if he is an ascetic, Origen reproaches himself for not having renounced absolutely everything, and even for wishing to acquire what he did not possess “before coming to Christ,” which may refer either to his possible conversion to Christianity or to his priestly ordination. He confesses that he is aware he has not yet fulfilled Jesus’ command completely. But Origen was a perfectionist and prone to selfaccusation and expressions of humility. The ideal of life without possessions was so strong for him that he attributed it to Elijah, a most perfect rational creature, to the highest degree: Elijah was ὁ ἀκτημονήστατος (Philocalia 26.4.12). Voluntary poverty is for him part and parcel of the ideal perfection of a rational creature, and this also entailed the rejection of slave ownership.


Philo, in the first half of the first century C.E., 59 informs us about the Therapeutae and their rejection of slavery both de jure and de facto, and even offers an idealized account of this ascetic community. All this, however, does not mean that he necessarily shared their views and practice. Indeed, he personally thought that the institution of slavery was “absolutely necessary” for the performance of menial tasks (Spec. leg. 2.82; 2.123). In the 58

Lex Christi nec possessiones in terra nec in urbibus domos habere permittit. Et quid dico domos? Nec plures tunicas nec multam concedit possidere pecuniam (Homilies on Leviticus 15.2). 59 On Philo’s life and thought see Mireille Hadas-Lebel, Philon d’Alexandrie. Un Penseur en diaspora (Paris: Fayard, 2003), Engl. transl. Philo of Alexandria: A Thinker in the Jewish Diaspora (Leiden: Brill, 2012), and Adam Kamesar, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Philo, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).

JEWISH AND CHRISTIAN EXEGESES OF THE “CURSE OF HAM”39 evaluation of slavery, Philo seems closer to the Stoics, who regarded moral slavery as evil, but juridical slavery as an indifferent thing and did not generally fight for its abolition, nor renounced keeping slaves themselves. An affluent man, Philo indeed seems not to have renounced this, any more than Seneca, his quasicontemporary, did. Like Seneca, to be sure, Philo advocated a humane treatment of one’s slaves, remarking that they should be provided with adequate food, care, clothes, and time for rest; in this way they will also work better; he also criticized masters who humiliated their slaves, who could well be morally nobler than they were (On Special Laws 2.83; 2.90–91). The very titles of Philo’s treatises devoted to slavery are in line with Stoic teaching on moral slavery and freedom: Every Good Person is Free (which I have already mentioned and which is preserved) and Every Bad Person is a Slave, which is unfortunately lost. 60 Philo’s ideas on moral slavery and freedom and other points reproduce the Stoic thought so exactly that many fragments from the third volume of von Arnim’s Stoicorum Veterum Fragmenta, on Stoic ethics, come from Philo’s works. Before Philo, the second-century B.C.E. Book of Sirach, belonging to the LXX, already expressed a position concerning slavery that came close to the Stoic one (10:25: “Free citizens will serve a wise slave, and an intelligent person will not complain”); however, the Stoic influence on Philo’s ideas on slavery is much wider and more consistent and precise. 61 On Philo’s teaching concerning moral slavery and freedom see Peter Garnsey, Ideas of Slavery from Aristotle to Augustine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 157–172. 61 See also Prov 17:2: “A capable slave will dominate an incompetent son and share the inheritance with the brothers.” Sirach 33:24–28 however advocates harshness toward slaves: “Fodder and a stick and burdens for an ass; bread and discipline and work for a slave. Set your slave to work, and you will find rest; leave his hands idle, and he will seek liberty. Yoke and thong will bow the neck, and for a wicked servant there are racks and tortures… Set him to work, as is fitting for him, and if he does not obey, make his fetters heavy”; likewise 42:5. But see Sir. 33:30– 31: “If you have a servant, let him be as yourself, because you have 60



In the preserved treatise, Every Good Person is Free, Philo makes a programmatic distinction between juridical slavery and freedom, which pertain to bodies, and moral slavery and freedom, which pertain to souls (Omn. bon. 17). His analysis, as he announces, will be devoted only to the latter. The former are not the subject of philosophical investigation, because they depend on fortune, that is to say, on extrinsic factors, and not on moral choices. Philo adduces the example of people of excellent virtue who have lost their juridical freedom due to the accidents of fortune (ibid. 18). In this way at least Philo, embracing the Stoic view, does not think with Aristotle that one can be a juridical slave by nature, rightly destined to be so; rather, he makes juridical slavery a moral indifferent thing or ἀδιάφορον. 62 People of the highest moral and intellectual standard, the best of humanity, can be juridical slaves. Philo definitely aligns with Stoicism when he remarks that “Those people in whom anger or desire or any other passion prevails, or any insidious vice, are utterly enslaved, whereas all those whose life is regulated by the moral law are free” (ibid. 45). Alongside Stoicism (and Platonism), the other great—and indeed the main—source of inspiration for Philo’s thought in general, and for his ideas about slavery in particular, is the Hebrew Scripture, which he knew in the form of the Greek translation called “Septuagint” (LXX) and which he interpreted allegorically in the light of Platonism and Stoicism, all the while also keeping—like Origen his follower—the historical level of the Bible. 63 In the Life of Moses (De vita Mosis) 1.36 Philo denounces the illegal enslavement of the Hebrews by the Egyptians, within the framework of his allegorical association of Egypt with pleasure, passions, and sin (which is reiterated many times in his oeuvre, e.g. in The Posterity of bought him with blood. If you have a servant, treat him as a brother, for as your own soul you will need him”; likewise 7:20–21. 62 On Aristotle’s, and the Stoics’, views on slavery see Garnsey, Ideas of Slavery, and Ramelli, Legitimacy of Slavery? 63 See my “Philosophical Allegoresis” and “Philo as Origen’s Declared Model. Allegorical and Historical Exegesis of Scripture,” Studies in Christian-Jewish Relations 7 (2012), 1–17. http://ejournals.bc.edu/ojs/index.php/scjr/article/view/2822.

JEWISH AND CHRISTIAN EXEGESES OF THE “CURSE OF HAM”41 Cain 155–156, and which will prove heavily influential upon Patristic exegesis 64). And in The Special Laws (De specialibus legibus), 2.122 he comments on the above-mentioned declaration of Lev 25:42 that the Jewish people cannot be slaves of human beings because they are the slave of God (“For they are my servants, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves”). 65 Indeed, it seems that Philo had in mind precisely Lev 39:42, when he remarks upon the good of being a slave of God in On Cherubs (De Cherubim) 106. Here the primary reference is Abraham, not only the ideal Jew but also the ideal human being and philosopher; for being a slave of God is the best possible status for a person: “The purified intellect delights in nothing more than in confessing that it has as its owner the Lord of all. For serving God as a slave [δoυλεύειν] is the highest title of honor for a human being, a treasure more precious not only than freedom, but also than riches and power and all that which is dearest to mortals.” This idea of the good of being a slave of God will become a topos in Christian literature. The Biblical regulations concerning the sabbatical rest of slaves are commented on by Philo in another interesting passage: Spec. leg. 2.69. Here Philo remarks that the Sabbath rest is prescribed by Scripture for both animals and slaves, but he adds that while animals, being deprived of reason, are by nature slaves of human beings, humans are not slaves by nature: “By nature no human being is a slave.” This is the same principle that Philo attributes to the Therapeutae, as I have already pointed out. And this is a principle consistent with Stoic ideas about slavery and Josephus too, under the influence either of Philo himself or of a common interpretive tradition, allegorized the Egyptians as “slaves of pleasure” (AI 2.201). 65 Philo did not live to see the political “enslavement” of the Jewish people to Rome after 70 C.E., as Josephus puts it in AI 20.166 (see also BI 2.264; 6.42 for the attribution of political “slavery” to the Jews with regard to the Romans). Philo’s emphasis lies on spiritual and moral slavery. Philo too, however, speaks of the political “enslavement”—i.e. submission—of the Jews to the Romans in Embassy to Gaius (Legatio ad Gaium) 119. 64



opposed to Aristotle’s theorization of “natural slavery.” Philo spells out this principle also ibid. 3.137: slaves are such “by fortune,” but they have “the same nature as their owners.” And God looks at nature, and not as fortune, when judging a person. This also offers Philo a chance to recommend leniency to slave owners, which is also in line with first-century C.E. Stoic recommendations, Seneca’s in primis. Philo seems to allude to Chrysippus when he states that “masters should treat their slaves, whom they have acquired with money, as hired workers [ὡς μισθωτοῖς], and not as slaves by nature [μὴ ὡς φύσει δούλοις]” (ibid. 2.122). Chrysippus had theorized that “a slave is a hired worker [μισθωτός, mercenarius] for life” (SVF 3.352B). Not accidentally von Arnim included Philo’s passage in his collection of ancient Stoic fragments and testimonia right before Chrysippus’s passage, as SVF 3.352A. On the background of Philo’s affirmation there seem to be both Chrysippus and the Biblical regulations concerning Hebrew slaves, who are not slaves by nature, but must be considered hired workers and must be released after seven years. Philo also reflected, in several passages of different works, on the controversial Biblical episode of the “Curse of Ham,” but his interpretation on this has nothing to do with the enslavement of black people, or of Canaanites, or of non-Jews in general. This apparently odd cursing of Canaan for a sin committed not even by himself, but by his father, is for Philo an allegory in On Sobriety (De sobrietate) 55. Wisdom, symbolized by Shem, is God’s friend and not God’s slave, but the sense-perceptible world, symbolized by Canaan, has God as its master and benefactor together, so it is a slave of God and not a friend of God. In this case, clearly the notion of being a slave of God in relation to the senses is different from that of being a slave of God in reference to the mind. Canaan’s being a slave of God, i.e. the sense-perceptible world’s being a slave of God, is different from Abraham’s or Moses’ being a slave of God, i.e. the perfect philosopher’s being a slave of God—indeed, Abraham and Moses are also deemed friends of God. In any case, Philo is not using the “Curse of Ham” as a justification for the institution of juridical slavery. In another work, Questions and Answers on Genesis (2.77), Philo, offering a more literal exegesis (as is typical of this treatise, which is not primarily allegorical), concentrated, like several Rabbis, on the reason why Canaan was cursed instead of Ham, the perpetrator of

JEWISH AND CHRISTIAN EXEGESES OF THE “CURSE OF HAM”43 the misdeed: “In the first place, God pronounced this sentence because both father and son had displayed the same wickedness, being both united together and not separated, and both indulging in the same disposition. But in the second place, he did so because the father would be exceedingly afflicted at the curse thus laid upon the son, being sufficiently conscious that he was punished not so much for his own sake as for that of his father. And so the leader and master of the two suffered the punishment of his wicked counsels, and words, and actions. This is the literal meaning of the statement.” By cursing Canaan, Noah knew he would provoke more suffering to Ham than by cursing Ham himself. This “psychological” interpretation comes close to that given in Jubilees 7:10–13. Neither Philo’s allegorical exegesis of the curse of Ham in On Sobriety nor his more literal one in the Questions treat this episode as a justification for the juridical enslavement of a race or any other group of human beings. In On Virtues, too, 37.202, from an ethical perspective, Philo remarks on Ham’s sin, disrespect for his father. That Philo prevalently had the Stoic theory in mind when dealing with the issue of slavery is confirmed by his explicit reference to Zeno, the founder of Stoicism, and his purported relation to the Jewish Scripture, in connection with the question of slavery. In Omn. bon. 57 he maintains that Zeno drew inspiration from the Jewish Torah, and in particular from the episode of Isaac’s prayer to God that Esau might be the slave of his brother Jacob (Gen 27:40: “you [Esau] will serve your brother” Jacob), because Esau was not wise, and being a slave of a wise man was the best for him. Zeno, according to Philo, drew from this story the principle that every virtuous and wise person is free and every fool is a slave. This is a typical procedure of Philo, who on other occasions finds in the Bible the source of philosophical doctrines, including Platonic doctrines such as that of the Ideas. Again, this entails a shift to the plane of moral slavery and freedom, which is distinct from that of juridical slavery and freedom. This is also true of Philo’s interpretation of the enslavement of Esau in The Allegories of the Laws (Legum Allegoriae) 3.88-104: here, too, Philo offers an allegorical interpretation, and in particular one that reads this disquieting story along the lines of the Stoic doctrine of moral slavery and freedom. Thus, after citing the divine decree in Gen 25:23 (“the elder shall serve the younger”), Philo comments: “This is because in God’s judgment what is base and



irrational is by nature a slave, while what is morally noble, endowed with reason, and better is royal and free.” In this way, the enslavement of Esau to his wiser brother on the part of their common father is not interpreted as a justification of the juridical enslavement of naturally inferior people, as it would be in an Aristotelian perspective, but rather as the expression of the Stoic tenet that the virtuous person is morally free and the vicious is morally a slave. Indeed, the mother of Esau and Isaac, Rebecca, is allegorized by Philo as “the soul who serves God.” And ibid. 192– 194 Philo addresses Esau as the symbol of a foolish person, who is enslaved by passions: “You are a slave of harsh and unbearable masters dwelling inside you.” It is again a matter of moral slavery, as in Persius, for instance, the quasi-contemporary of Philo who named passions “cruel masters,” saevos tyrannos dwelling inside a person. 66 Echoes of a similar conception of true enslavement as the moral enslavement to passions are also to be found in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, which may be either a Jewish work with Christian redactional insertions in the I–II century C.E., or, less probably, a Christian work. In the Testament of Judah, 18.6, two passions are said to oppose God’s commands and to enslave a human being, blinding his soul and preventing him from obeying God. And in the Testament of Asher 3.2 passions are depicted as evil desires that enslave people to the devil. The influence of Hellenistic moral philosophy is here evident.


I have already pointed out that Origen of Alexandria, who knew Philo’s works very well, was a strict ascetic, who embraced voluntary poverty—even supporting the rather widespread patristic principle that wealth is tantamount to theft 67—and renounced owning slaves. Consistently, Origen interpreted the “Curse of See my Legitimacy of Slavery? for Persius’ treatment of moral slavery and his depiction of passions as masters and tyrants. 67 On this principle in patristic thinkers see my Legitimacy of Slavery? 66

JEWISH AND CHRISTIAN EXEGESES OF THE “CURSE OF HAM”45 Ham” in an exclusively allegorical way and never took it as a justification of legal slavery. Origen in his extant writings does not endorse the institution of slavery, but he insists, at the moral level, that human beings are all enslaved to sin. 68 He mostly interprets slavery, for instance captivity in Egypt, in a spiritual sense, a meaning that is retained by his close follower (and radical opponent of legal slavery 69) Gregory of Nyssa. Thus, for example, in a Homily on Genesis, 16.1–2, he interprets the story of the enslavement of the Egyptians and of the Jews by Pharaoh and conflates it with that of the “Curse of Ham,” in that he considers Ham to be the progenitor of the Egyptians. In 16.1 Egypt represents spiritual slavery: no Egyptian is free (nullus Aegyptius liber). Egypt is the house of slavery (domus seruitutis) and, what is worse, of voluntary slavery (uoluntariae seruitutis) to sin or vices (omnem famulatum uitiorum). The Egyptian’s forefather is Ham, whose son Canaan deserved to become a slave because of his sinful behavior or nequitia morum. But Origen draws no Aristotelian-like consequence whatsoever that Egyptians or black people in general deserve to be juridical slaves or the like. For he interprets all this allegorically, transposing everything onto the moral and spiritual plane. This slavery is moral, not legal or political: the Egyptians represent all people who are enslaved to vices, in a Stoicizing fashion, and those who serve the Egyptians are not legal slaves, but those who are enslaved to the basest vices and to demons—a notion that will be inherited by Evagrius. In fact, Origen often regards the Biblical “Egyptians” as an allegory of demons, and their Pharaoh as an allegory of Satan; Gregory Nyssen later inherited this exegesis. So, Origen is quick to add that he is interpreting everything spiritaliter and the Egyptians’ slavery is enslavement to fleshly vices (carnalibus uitiis) and demons. 70 Those who fall prey to vices do so because of laziness—a typical concern of Origen—of the intellect and bodily pleasure (segnitia animi, 148.


E.g., Against Celsus = Contra Celsum 7.17; On Easter = De Pascha

On Gregory’s opposition to legal slavery see my “Gregory Nyssen’s Position in Late-Antique Debates on Slavery and Poverty and the Role of Ascetics,” Journal of Late Antiquity 5 (2012), 87–118. 70 Hom. in Gen. 16.2. 69



uoluptas corporis). If one is not lazy but takes care of one’s soul, one is an Israelite, and not an Egyptian. Everything depends on one’s moral choices; legal slavery and freedom are completely irrelevant here. In this connection, Origen quotes John 8:31-34 to the effect that the person who sins is a slave of sin, but truth makes people free. Likewise, in the case of another Biblical episode of enslavement, and a very disconcerting one at that, Origen interprets the enslavement of Esau to his brother not at all as a reference to the juridical enslavement of someone to someone else, but rather as a reference to the relationship between Judaism and Christianity and—the interpretation he develops much more—again as a reference to moral enslavement to sins: I think that it can be said of each of us that “two peoples are inside” us. 71 For the people of virtues is inside us and at the same time the people of vices is inside us.… But that of virtues is smaller, that of vices bigger. For evil people are always more numerous than good people, and vices more numerous than virtues. But if we are like Rebecca, and we deserve to conceive from Isaac, that is, from God’s Logos, in us too “one people will defeat the other and the bigger will be a slave of the smaller.” 72 For the flesh will be a slave of the spirit, and vices will yield to virtues. 73

In the same way, the Biblical story of Abraham’s two sons, Isaac and Ishmael, one from a free woman (Sarah) and the other from a slave (Hagar), which was already allegorized by Paul as a reference to Judaism and Christianity, 74 is not interpreted by Origen in such a way as to suggest, in an Aristotelizing manner, that some people should be juridical slaves and others should be their juridical Gen 25:23, in reference to Jacob and Esau in Rebecca’s womb. Gen 25:23, in reference to Esau, the older, who will be a slave of Jacob, the younger. 73 Hom. in Gen. 12.3. 74 See Ilaria Ramelli, “Allegory II (Judaism),” in Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception: I. Aaron–Aniconism, ed. Hans-Joseph Klauck et alii (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2009), 785–793. 71 72

JEWISH AND CHRISTIAN EXEGESES OF THE “CURSE OF HAM”47 owners, but it is rather understood in reference to spiritual slavery and freedom. 75 The former category is that of those who obey God’s commandments seruili timore, “out of fear, as a slave”; the latter category is that of the perfect, who do good in caritatis libertate, “out of love, as a free person.” Origen is drawing inspiration from 1 John 4:18, which claims that whoever fears is not perfect in love, since perfect love excludes fear. Origen’s attitude contrasts with an example of ancient Christian text that actually connects the Curse of Ham with the juridical slavery of dark people. The Eastern Christian work, The Cave of Treasures, from the fourth century C.E., explicitly connects slavery with dark-skinned people: “When Noah awoke…he cursed him and said: ‘Cursed be Ham and may he be slave to his brothers’… and he became a slave, he and his lineage, namely the Egyptians, the Abyssinians, and the Indians. Indeed, Ham lost all sense of shame and he became black and was called shameless all the days of his life, forever.” Note here also the cursing of Ham himself, and not of Canaan, a rationalization which is common to other Christian authors, such as Ambrose, and that may also depend on a textual variant (see below). In the same century, the Syriac ascetic and monastic Aphrahat, who embraced a strict form of voluntary poverty and kept no slaves, but did not condemn slavery as an institution, in Dem. 3, On Fasting, comments on the imposition of slavery upon both Esau and Canaan in the Hebrew Bible, and endeavors to offer a rationalization of these stories, whose difficulties I have already pointed out. According to Aphrahat, Esau was condemned to being a slave of Jacob “because he married women of Canaan, who had been cursed by his father Noah.” The first sentence is a quotation from Gen 9:25, but the Genesis text does not explain Esau’s condemnation to enslavement with that. Moreover, Noah was the father of Ham, and not of Canaan, and it was Ham who sinned, but Canaan was condemned. It is also worth noting that Aphrahat quotes Gen 27:40 according to the Syriac Peshitta: “You [sc. Esau] will be a slave of your brother Jacob, but if you convert, his yoke will pass away from your neck.” This indicates that slavery 75

Hom. in Gen. 7.4.



is made dependent on a lack of conversion and meant as a punishment for that or a consequence of that; the moral factor of conversion determines liberation from slavery. Aphrahat returns to the curse of both Ham and Esau in Dem. 14: “Ham, because he had become haughty and had despised his father, was cursed and made a slave of the slaves of his brothers. Esau, because of his haughtiness, lost his rights of firstborn” (§ 10). It is not even mentioned that the one who was cursed on account of Ham’s sin was in fact Ham’s son, Canaan, and not Ham himself. Likewise, Aphrahat observed that “Ham, having ridiculed their father, and having been convicted of the sin of impiety because of his outrage and unrighteousness against his father, received a curse” (Dem. 20). Again, not even a mention of Canaan in this connection. Ambrose of Milan, who, as a senator, knew Philo as well as Origen, had substantial possessions and owned many slaves. He did not retain all of this in his religious life, but we do not know whether he kept possessions and slaves, and to what extent. However, in his exegesis of Luke, which depends on Origen, he exhorts his public to reject worldly possessions, leaving all of their wealth and following Christ (9.35–36). Ambrose may or may not have followed this advice literally himself. From the Biblical point of view, Ambrose does comment on puzzling episodes such as that of the “Curse of Ham,” but he tacitly removes at least part of the puzzlement it can give raise to by totally omitting that the person punished with enslavement due to Ham’s sin was not Ham himself, but his son Canaan. Ambrose, indeed, in Ep. 7.6 speaks of a curse of enslavement directly upon Ham and does not even mention Canaan; he quotes Gen 9:25 not as “Cursed be Canaan; a slave of slaves shall he be to his brothers,” but in the following form: “Cursed be Ham; a household slave shall he be to his brothers.” With this alteration of the Biblical story Ambrose probably intended to make it less awkward. That this is not a variant in the manuscript tradition of Ambrose’s work, but it is rather Ambrose’s own strategy, is suggested by his Commentary on Philippians 2.255A, where he states that the first human being to be called a slave, and deservedly so since he had sinned, was Ham, the son of Noah. No trace of Canaan here either. Ham sinned, in his foolishness, and Ham was condemned to be a slave. The same exegetical strategy was already adopted by Irenaeus, who, relying on a source, “the presbyter,” remarked that “Ham mocked the shame

JEWISH AND CHRISTIAN EXEGESES OF THE “CURSE OF HAM”49 of his father, and therefore fell under a curse” (AH 4.31). This move may have had a textual basis: a part of the manuscript tradition of the LXX changed Χανααν into Χαμ, so to read, “Cursed be Ham,” instead of “Cursed be Canaan,” and both Irenaeus and Ambrose, who knew Greek very well, read the LXX. A further confirmation comes from Ambrosiaster, an anonymous Latin author who drew his exegesis from Ambrose. This is why, commenting on Col 4:1, he repeats that Ham was to be called a slave, because of his foolishness and sin. As for the other puzzling Biblical passage, that of the enslavement of Esau, Ambrose’s treatment in Ep. 7.7–8 simply takes over Philo’s interpretation, but stresses more the beneficial aspect of this enslavement for Esau, who would draw advantage by being guided by someone more intelligent and virtuous. This is a line of reasoning that obviously goes back to Aristotle and that Gregory Nyssen, as I have demonstrated elsewhere, 76 utterly rejected. Basil of Caesarea, who was critical of slave ownership, especially if one possessed many slaves, but was not so radical in the rejection of the institution of slavery as his brother Gregory of Nyssa, explains that some people are slaves because of a war, others due to poverty, and yet others thanks to “an ineffable administration [οἰκονομία],” clearly coming from God, since the worse were commanded to serve the better, which is not a “condemnation” (καταδίκη), but rather a “benefaction” or εὐεργεσία. There are cases in which slavery is a boon to the enslaved person, Basil maintains (and in Moral Rules, Regulae morales 75 he even recommends, on the basis of the New Testament Haustafeln, that Christian slaves work harder than non-Christian slaves). This is reminiscent of Aristotle’s pseudo-argument that slaves by nature are lacking in decisional power and need to be ruled by better people, i.e. their masters, even if in the first part of his treatment Basil has rejected the Aristotelian theory of natural slavery, as most patristic thinkers also did. Basil, however, unlike Aristotle, is also reasoning on the basis of the perplexing Biblical episode of the “Curse of Ham” and is trying to make sense of it, while his brother Nyssen, significantly enough, never uses this 76

In Legitimacy of Slavery?



Scriptural story to justify slavery in any respect. Basil, using a trite Aristotelian commonplace that was at work also in Theodoret and Augustine, 77 explains that it is useful that those who have less intelligence and a limited ruling faculty serve those who are superior: “For if one lacks in wisdom and has not in himself the natural ruling faculty, it is more expedient [λυσιτελέστερον] that this person becomes the possession [κτῆμα] of another, so to be directed by the rational faculty of his master [τῷ τοῦ κρατοῦντος λογισμῷ διευθυνόμενος], like a chariot with a charioteer” (Spir. S. 20.51). Basil, like Theodoret, fails to explain why he is so sure that those who happen to be slaves are also people less endowed with intelligence and ruling faculty (philosophers such as Epictetus and Diogenes were slaves at least for a part of their lives). This theory, indeed, worked well within Aristotle’s doctrine that some people are slaves by nature, and these are also those who lack in intelligence and ruling capacity. But if one rejects the theory of natural slavery, as Basil and most patristic thinkers did, it is much more difficult to explain the reason why those who happen to be slaves are also those who are less intelligent and less able to take good decisions. I assume that Basil would have recourse to God’s providential discernment, which is hardly a philosophical argument. After all, Aristotle’s theory of the natural slavery of barbarian people was in fact no more philosophical either, but neither Basil nor Theodoret could appeal to this argument, essentially for a question of theodicy: how could the Godhead be declared just, if from the beginning it had created some people slaves, without any fault of their own? However, Basil’s interpretation of the “Curse of Ham” as an Aristotelian-like justification of juridical slavery is not common among patristic interpreters (who mostly focused on moral and spiritual slavery in this connection), and even less common, among both rabbinic and patristic exegetes, is the association between the “Curse of Ham” and the juridical enslavement of racially identified people, particularly black people. Some ancient Jewish and Christian ascetics, including Essenes, Therapeutae, Gregory of Nyssa and many Christian monastics, even rejected slavery outright 77

On them see my Legitimacy of Slavery?

JEWISH AND CHRISTIAN EXEGESES OF THE “CURSE OF HAM”51 and renounced keeping any slaves. They all knew the episode of the “Curse of Ham,” but they did not think that it justified juridical slavery in any way. As I have demonstrated in a systematic investigation, 78 indeed, asceticism was not only connected with control over one’s body and passions, but also to justice: control of one’s body, fasting, and all ascetic practices are useless, if one practices injustice and oppresses other people by keeping them enslaved or stealing what they need by possessing more than one needs.


In Legitimacy of Slavery?


JACOB’S DOUBLE: A REDUPLICATIVE CONFABULATION OF POST-BIBLICAL LITERATURE STEVEN DANIEL SACKS CORNELL COLLEGE, MOUNT VERNON, IOWA One great mystery of early post-biblical interpretation is the idea that the patriarch Jacob is split into many personalities and manifestations, both human and angelic. In apocryphal works such as The Prayer of Joseph and The Ladder of Jacob (1st Century C.E.), 1 the writings of Philo (1st Century C.E.), 2 the Gnostic treatise “On the Fragments from The Prayer of Joseph are preserved in Origen’s Commentary on John 2:31 and Philocalia 23:15 and 23:19. Jonathan Z. Smith has translated and written the authoritative account in “The Prayer of Joseph” in Religions in Antiquity: Essays in Memory of Erwin Ramsdell Goodenough, ed. J. Neusner (Leiden: Brill, 1970), 253–294 and again in “Prayer of Joseph” in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, vol. 2, ed. J.H. Charlesworth (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1983): 699–714. For The Ladder of Jacob, see chapter four in H.G. Lunt, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, vol. 2 401–411. 2 De Confusione Linguarum 146 and the traditions of “Israel, the One who Sees God,” especially De Mutatione Nominum 82 and De Migratione Abrahami 39. See the aforementioned articles of Smith, Gerhard Delling, “The ‘One Who Sees God’ in Philo” in Nourished with Peace: Studies in 1




Origin of the World” (4th Century C.E.), Manichean hymns from Turfan (6-8th Century? C.E.), 3 and Hekhalot literature (6-8th Century C.E.), 4 there is extensive speculation on the separation and interaction between and among the identities of the patriarch as Jacob or Israel, the nation that bears his name, and a heavenly power named Jacob/Israel, who holds divine titles, powers, and perhaps even a primordial origin. 5 Scholars have also detected hints of this fragmentation—and an eliding of the patriarch’s human, national and angelic personae—in some patristic and rabbinic interpretations of the patriarch Jacob’s change of name to Israel, 6 Hellenistic Judaism in Memory of Samuel Sandmel, eds. F. Greenspahn, E. Hilgert and B. Mack (Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1984), 27–42, and A.J.M. Wedderburn “Philo’s Heavenly Man,” Novum Testamentum 15, no. 4 (1973), 301–326. 3 The standard introduction to Jacob’s role in these sources is Alexander Böhlig, “Jacob as an Angel in Gnosticism and Manichaeism,” in Nag Hammadi and Gnosis, ed. R. McL. Wilson (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1978), 122–130. Böhlig provides translations of the Manichean sources from manuscript. The relevant section of “On the Origin of the World” is 105:33 in James M. Robinson, ed., The Coptic Gnostic Library: A Complete Edition of the Nag Hammadi Codices, vol. 2 no. 5 (Leiden: Brill, 2000), 44–45. 4 The most cited tradition about Jacob from Hekhalot literature is §164 [in Peter Schäfer, Synopse zur Hekhalot-Literatur (Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1981)], but see also §406 (296). 5 Jonathan Z. Smith organizes much of the above material around angelic attributes that he finds in The Prayer of Joseph: (A) Titles which mirror Philo’s De Confusione Linguarum 146: (1) Jacob (2) Israel, an angel of God (3) A ruling spirit (4) A man seeing God (5) First born (6) Archangel (of the power of the lord) (7) Chief captain among the sons of God (8) First minister before the face of God; (B) Conflict and rivalry between Jacob/Israel and the angels; (C) A myth of descent. See also James H. Charlesworth, “The Portrayal of the Righteous as an Angel,” in Ideal Figures in Ancient Judaism: Profiles and Paradigms, eds. J.J. Collins and G.W.E. Nickelsburg (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1980), 135 and Jarl Fossum, The Image of the Invisible God: Essays on the Influence of Jewish Mysticism on Early Christology (Freiburg: Universitätsverlag Freiburg/Schweiz, 1995), 142–143. 6 Some interpretations and translations of Genesis 32:29 relate that when Jacob “strove” [‫ ]שרית‬with God and men, the verse means to say



and the rabbinic tradition which speaks of Jacob’s visage upon the divine throne. 7 In most scholars’ view, however, rabbinic literature understands the divergence of Jacob/Israel as an occasional symbol or allegory for the nation’s holiness or intimacy with God. 8 In that Jacob/Israel was an angelic prince (‫ )שר‬with/of God. See Geza Vermes [in “The Angel Sariel: A Targumic Parallel to the Dead Sea Scrolls,” in Christianity, Judaism and Other Greco-Roman Cults: Studies for Morton Smith at Sixty, ed. J. Neusner, (Leiden: Brill, 1975), 165], who locates this idea in the Targumim, and Elliot Wolfson [in Along the Path: Studies in Kabbalistic Myth, Symbolism and Hermeneutics, (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1995), 5], who identifies this idea in Jerome’s Liber Quaestionum Hebraicarum in Genesim [in Jean-Paul Migne, Patrologiae Latinae, vol. 23 (Paris: Excudebat Migne, 1844–), 1038], where Jerome asserts that Jacob is “a prince with God,” [princeps cum Deo] and “the prince of song” [principem sonat]. 7 See discussion below. In pre-Geonic literature the tradition is in Genesis Rabbah 68:12 (TA 785–790), 78:3 (TA 920–921) and 82:2 (TA 978), b. Ḥullin 91b, Lamentations Rabbah 2:1, Numbers Rabbah 4:1 Tanḥuma (Warsaw) Ba-Midbar 19, Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer 35, Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, Neofiti and all fragmentary Targumim to Gen 28:12, Targum Jonathan to Ezek 1:26 (ms Montefiore H.116) and I Chron 21:15, and the piyyutim of Yanni to Gen 28:10, Gen 35:9 and the Qerovah for Yom Kippur [in Tzvi Meir Rabinovits, ed., Mahzor Piyyutei Yannai L’Torah V’LaMo‘adim, (Jerusalem: Mosad Biyalik, 1987) vol. 1, 170 and 217–218 and vol. 2, 212], Yose ben Yose Gevurot Azkhir [in Aharon Mirsky, ed., Piyyute Yose ben Yose (Jerusalem: Mosad Bialik, 1977), 140–141], Rabbi Eleazar BeRabbi Kallir, Kedushtaot Rosh HaShana 3:296, 3:501, 4:49, 10:58, 10:70 and 15:75[in Shulamit Elizur and Michael Rand, eds., Liturgical Poems for Rosh Ha-Shana (Jerusalem: World Union of Jewish Studies, 2014] and Kedushtaot Shavuot 2:5:7 and 2:6:246 [in Shulamit Elizur, Rabbi El’azar BiRabbi Kiliri Kedushtaot L’Yom Matan Torah (Jerusalem: Mekize Nirdamim, 2000)] and the piyyut published by Joseph Heinemann, “Seridim M’Yitziratam Ha-Piyyut Shel HaMeturgemanim Ha-Kedomi,” Ha-Sifrut 4 (1973), 362–75, here 364. 8 See, for example, Menahem Kister’s comments [in “Observations on Aspects of Exegesis, Tradition and Theology in Midrash, Pseudepigrapha, and Other Jewish Writings,” in Tracing the Threads: Studies in the Vitality of Jewish Pseudepigrapha, ed. J.C. Reeves (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1994), 30, note 62], that “in their present form, [rabbinic traditions



contrast, this short study will set forth a preliminary demonstration that classical rabbinic sources not only share these non-canonical sources’ interest in Jacob/Israel’s relationship with humanity and the nation, but also present a similar interest in the angelology of Jacob/Israel in these sources that is due to their shared engagement with the Scriptural ambiguities that house these traditions. The degree to which the interests and origins of these postbiblical sources, both rabbinic and non-canonical, overlap may be quickly demonstrated from one of the most evocative and oft cited examples of Jacob’s bifurcation in rabbinic literature, the aforementioned tradition of Jacob’s visage on the divine throne. The tradition, which introduces us to two beings named Jacob, is usually recounted from two major versions, Genesis Rabbah 68:12 (TA 787–788): ‫ויחלם ]והנה סלם מצב ארצה וראשו מגיע השמימה‬ '‫והנה מלאכי אלהים עלים וירדים בו[ )בר' כח יב( ר‬ - ‫ חד אמר עולים ויורדים בסולם‬-‫חייא רבא ור' יניי‬ ‫ מן דאמר עולים ויורדים ביעקב מעלים בו מורדים‬.‫ניחה‬ ‫בו אופזים בו קופזים בו סונטים בו שנ' ישראל אשר בך‬ ‫ את הוא שאיקונין שלך חקוקה‬.(‫אתפאר )ישיעה מט ג‬ ‫ עולים ורואין איקונין שלו יורדין ורואים אתו‬:‫למעלן‬ ‫ למלך שהיה יושב ודן בפרור עולים לבסילקי‬.‫ישן‬ ‫ומוצאין אותו ישן יורדים בפרור ומוצאים אותו יושב‬ .‫ודן‬

and b. Ḥullin 91b:

‫ ויורדין‬,‫ עולין ומסתכלין בדיוקנו של מעלה‬:‫תנא‬ ‫ והנה‬- ‫ מיד‬,‫ בעו לסכוניה‬.‫ומסתכלין בדיוקנו של מטה‬ ‫ אלמלא מקרא‬:‫ אמר רבי שמעון בן לקיש‬,‫ה' נצב עליו‬ .‫ כאדם שמניף על בנו‬- ‫ אי אפשר לאמרו‬,‫כתוב‬

In the view of existing scholarship, these traditions of the patriarch’s icon on the divine throne present an opposition about an angelic Jacob] are intended as non-literal rhetoric about the people Israel, not the person Jacob, as is evident from their contexts. This is an instructive example of how a bold idea becomes in a Tannaitic midrash stock phraseology.”



between higher and lower halves of Jacob, which is the foundation for their symbolic or allegorical understanding. For many scholars, the contrast between the different Jacobs suggests that the rabbis wish to differentiate between a lesser form of the patriarch and an ideal or symbolic Jacob who embodies a Gnostic version of the nation, or Israel’s “heavenly archetype”; 9 Jacob’s supernal ‫איקונין‬ recalls the primordial man Adam’s likeness [εικονα] with God from the Septuagint to Genesis 1:27, 10 thus contrasting the represented nation’s ideal spiritual state with the lower, sleeping Jacob, who represents the sinful and mortal distance of the nation from its divine nature. 11 The inclusion of the angels as prosecutors of the lower patriarch, most clearly articulated in b. Ḥullin’s claim that the angels “wished to injure [Jacob],” [‫]בעו לסכוניה‬, similarly points to a rivalry between the nation and the angels for intimacy with God, 12 90F

See Alexander Altmann, “The Gnostic Background of the Rabbinic Adam Legends,” Jewish Quarterly Review 35 (1945), 371–391 as a characteristic reading, which is related to many of the parallel readings of John 1:51 stemming from C.F. Burney The Aramaic Origin of the Fourth Gospel (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1922), 114, including Hugo Odeberg, The Fourth Gospel: Interpreted in Its Relation to Contemporaneous Religious Currents in Palestine and the Hellenistic-oriental World (Stockholm: Uppsala Och Stockholm, 1929), 37 and culminating in Rudolph Bultmann The Gospel of John: A Commentary G.R. Beasley-Murray, ed., and R.W.N. Hoare and J.K. Riches, Trans. (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1971), 105, note 3. See Smith, “The Prayer of Joseph,” 286, note 4. 10 See Jacob Jervell, Imago Dei (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1960), 71ff. 11 Altmann, “The Gnostic,” 390. 12 See Peter Schäfer “Rivalry between Angels and Men in the Prayer of Joseph and Rabbinic Literature,” in Proceedings of the Sixth World Congress of Jewish Studies Vol. 3 (Jerusalem: World Union of Jewish Studies, 1977), 514–515 (Hebrew) specifically, and his Rivalität zwischen Engeln und Menschen (Berlin: Walter De Gruyter 1975) in general. The theme of rivalry is neither present nor obvious in most versions of the tradition, particularly in the earliest and most expansive version in Genesis Rabbah, in which the phrase ‫ אופזים בו קופזים בו סונטים בו‬has no parallel nor clear 9



thus reinforcing these scholars’ allegorical understanding of the passage as a whole. Although there is wide variety among scholarly interpretations of this passage, 13 the overarching commonality among them is the symbolic or allegorical nature of this tradition, best represented in the comments of Louis Ginzberg, who explained that: Jacob would have been an ideal countenance not for Adam or for mankind in general, but for the people of Israel in particular. His icon would have perfectly represented Israel’s presence upon God’s throne. Indeed, the desire to situate a figurative representation of Israel upon the divine throne is itself a sufficient motive to explain the invention of the image of the icon—Israel’s wish to be literally at God’s right hand. 14

A purely figurative, allegorical or symbolic understanding of Jacob’s visage, however, cannot fully account for the complexity of rabbinic and non-rabbinic traditions regarding Jacob’s identities, and the multiplicity of Scriptural sources to which these traditions clearly respond. The array of rabbinic and non-rabbinic traditions concerning Jacob/Israel’s identities evidently respond to a series of Scriptural ambiguities: the several contradictions and ambiguities of pronouns in Genesis 28, 15 the fluid identities of the angelic and definition. Moreover, the theme is entirely absent from the versions of the tradition in the Targumim. 13 See, for example, Wolfson, Along the Path, 4–5. 14 Legends of the Jews (Henrietta Szold and Paul Radin, trans.) (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1911), 5:290 note 134. 15 In addition to the ‫ בו‬that is referenced in this passage, midrashim and other sources play upon the ambiguity of the phrase ‫ נצב עליו‬to state that God sits on an angelic Jacob/Israel, as in Genesis Rabbah 68:11 and 74:11, for example, and enlarged in the piyyutim of Yose ben Yose Gevurot Azkhir line 97–99 [in Aharon Mirsky, ed., Piyyute Yose ben Yose (Jerusalem: Mosad Bialik, 1977), 140–141] and Yannai’s Qedushta to Genesis 35:9 [in Tzvi Meir Rabinovits, ed., Mahzor Piyyutei Yannai L’Torah V’LaMo‘adim vol. 1 (Jerusalem: Mosad Bialik, 1987), 219]. We may see an additional ambiguity at play in the word ‫ ראשו‬from Gen 28:13 which reaches its



human wrestlers in the patriarch’s renaming(s) as Israel in Genesis 32 and Hosea 12, and the second time that the patriarch receives the name Israel in Genesis 35. In both Genesis 32:29 and 35:10, for example, Scripture assumes a nominal, if not metaphysical, transformation in the patriarch from his old name Jacob to his new name Israel. Nevertheless, Genesis does not provide any clarity about who or what are Jacob and Israel, even after the change of names, as was forcefully demonstrated by Moshe Tzvi Segal; 16 the patriarch’s inability to maintain a singular and uniform identity originates as a Scriptural problem or opportunity, depending upon your perspective, nowhere better represented than in Genesis 46:2, in which God delivers the fate of the nation Israel to the patriarch with the following preface: And God spoke unto Israel in the visions of the night, and said: ‘Jacob, Jacob.’ [‫ויאמר אלהים לישראל במראת הלילה‬ ‫ ]ויאמר יעקב יעקב‬Accordingly, although scholars invariably evoke Genesis Rabbah 68:12 regarding the two Jacobs and its bond to the word ‫ בו‬of Genesis 28:12, Scripture and the rabbinic tradition suggest that the whole host of ambiguities regarding the patriarch’s identity and nature from the passages above are reflected in the tradition of Jacob’s visage upon the divine throne. Whereas the symbolic or allegorical reading of Jacob’s bifurcation depends upon the narrative of angels ascent and descent “on” Jacob from Genesis 28, we may see in Genesis Rabbah itself that the tradition of Jacob’s visage on the divine throne equally originates in the obscurity of Jacob’s new identity and name as Israel, as we find in Genesis Rabbah 78:3 (TA 921) with regard to Jacob’s gift of the name from the wrestling angel from Genesis 32, ‫ד"א כי שרית עם אלהים )בר' לב כט( את הוא שאיקוניך חקוקה למעלה‬

and in Genesis Rabbah 82:2 (TA 978), with regard to the second giving of the name Israel from Genesis 35,

zenith in the apocryphal Ladder of Jacob in which there is not only a “face” at the top of the ladder, but twenty-four faces on each step of the ladder. 16 See M.Tz. Segal “The Names Jacob and Israel in the Book of Genesis,” Tarbiz 9 (1938), 243–256 (Hebrew).



‫ר' יצחק פתח מזבח אדמה תעשה לי וגו' )שמות כ כד( מה אם מי שבונה‬ ‫מזבח לשמי הריני מברכו יעקב שאיקונין שלו חקוקה בכסאי על אחת‬ '‫כמה וכמה שאני ניגלה עליו ומברכו הה"ד וירא אלהים אל יעקב וגו' )בר‬ (‫לה ט‬

The equivalent strength of the bond between the tradition of Jacob’s visage upon the divine throne and the traditions of Jacob’s transformation by means of the name Israel are similarly summarized in a piyyut of R. Eleazar B’Rabbi Kallir: 17 /‫קבוע תארו בכסא הדרי‬ ‫קראוי יעקב ומכונה ישראל לאדרי‬

It is clear, then, that the division of Jacob found in Genesis Rabbah and b. Ḥullin must originate in a larger exegetical issue that reflects the rabbis’ engagement with the meaning and value of Jacob’s multiple personae. Consequently, the fact that Jacob is never decisively transformed, nor wholly defined by a new identity or persona, Israel, in Scripture is no doubt a central inspiration for the multiplication of the identities that continue into the post-biblical period. Post-biblical literature’s fragmentation of Jacob and Israel is a constant, shifting among individual, duplicate or multiple personalities, which comingle and interact with one another as humans, angels, a nation or any combination of the above; we may see this interaction, for example, in post-biblical traditions in which the angel who wrestles Jacob is named Israel and is one with whom he comes to share a name or identity, 18 or in other traditions which claim that multiple Jacobs/Israels inhabit the same body. 19 The Kedushtaot L’Yom Matan Torah, 2:246–247. Ladder of Jacob chapter four, a tradition also found in Pirqe deRabbi Eliezer 37; see Andrei A. Orlov “The Face as the Heavenly Counterpart of the Visionary in the Slavonic Ladder of Jacob,” in Of Scribes and Sages , Vol. 2, ed. C. Evans (London: T&T Clark/Continuum, 2004), 59–76. 19 This is one of the principal ambiguities in The Prayer of Joseph, which states that “: I, Jacob, who am speaking to you, am also Israel, an angel of God,” that “I [Jacob-Israel] had descended (κατεσχήνωσα έν 17




enumerative quality of interpretation across post-biblical literary traditions can be clearly seen in a superficial survey of any of the rabbinic and non-rabbinic works that retell or directly interpret the Scriptural passages presented above. As a result, we may see that traditions such as those concerning Jacob’s visage on the divine throne from Genesis Rabbah and b. Ḥullin emerge out of the same environment in this post-biblical period, all of which shared the desideratum found in Jacob/Israel’s obscurity, and valued its ability to express a range of mythic, theological and national concerns. These post-biblical literatures introduce, elide, combine and reconfigure these different manifestations of Israel according to their theological visions of divine, human, patriarchal, national and angelic relationships. The rabbinic attempts to represent this complexity in the two Jacobs of Genesis Rabbah and b. Ḥullin, for example, are no different in orientation and concern from these non-rabbinic parallels; Jacob is doubled not because the sages wish to use Jacob as a metaphor or symbol, but rather because they see plurality as a characteristic feature of Jacob in Scripture which grows, multiplies and develops in concert with these parallel postbiblical attempts to address the theological diversity, national identity and competing movements of their time. These parallels, therefore, should be a key partner by means of which we should seek to understand the unusual representations of the patriarch that are present throughout rabbinic literature. 20 Rabbinic literature fully ἀνθρώποις) to earth and I had tabernacled among men and that I had been called by the name of Jacob,” and most cryptically in Fragments B and C that, “Jacob was greater than man (μείζων ἢ κατά ανθρωπον ἤν), … chief captain of the power of the Lord (ἀρχιλίαρχος δυνάμεως κυρίου) and had, from of old, the name of Israel; something which he recognizes while doing service in the body, being reminded of it by the archangel Uriel (ὃπερ ἐν σώματι λειτουργῶν ἀναγνωρίζει) [!!!].” See note 1 above. 20 Another example which demonstrates my point: If we examine the tradition which recounts Jacob as a member of the Merkavah, from Genesis Rabbah 47:6 (TA 475), 69:3 (TA 792–793) and 82:6 (TA 983), for example, we should not overlook the relationship between the angelic representation of the patriarch and the prooftexts, “and God went up from upon him [‫( ”]מעליו‬Gen 35:13); and “Behold, the Lord stood upon



participates in this shared environment and understanding of the patriarch, including the entire spectrum of human, national and angelic identities towards which these Scriptural ambiguities lead post-biblical interpreters. An allegorical or symbolic interpretation of these traditions in rabbinic literature provides a haven from less palatable ideas of non-rabbinic literature regarding angels, theology and national self-conception. A more balanced conception of the rabbis can be achieved from a view of their work in situ, in conversation with other interpretive traditions, and within their conversation about the reflection of myth and theology in Scripture and in their world.

him [‫( ”]נצב עליו‬Gen 28:13), both of which are related to the Scriptural ambiguities mentioned above, and have obvious associations with the angelic traditions of non-rabbinic literature.




M ISH NAH YADAYIM 3:5 JONATHAN KAPLAN THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN, TEXAS Mishnah Yadayim 3:5 is a prominent source in scholarly discussions about the development of the Biblical canon and the canonical status of Song of Songs in the first centuries of the Common Era. 1 At Earlier versions of this essay were presented at the Judaism in Antiquity Workshop at Harvard University in 2010 and at the Midrash section of the 2012 annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in Chicago, IL. I am grateful to the participants in these sessions for their helpful comments as I have worked to revise this essay. I would also like to thank Jason Kalman for reading a penultimate draft of this essay. All remaining deficiencies in the essay are my own. 1 See for instance Timothy H. Lim, The Formation of the Jewish Canon (AYBRL; New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013), 50–52; and Martin Goodman, “Sacred Scripture and ‘Defiling the Hands’,” in Judaism in the Roman World, Collected Essays (Leiden: Brill, 2007), 69–78, here 70.




the conclusion of an extended discussion about which Scriptural texts do and do not “render the hands impure” (‫ )מטמאין את הידים‬2, a phrase generally understood as a terminus technicus for canonical status in the Mishnah, Rabbi Akiva states: “For all the writings are holy [‫]קדש‬, but Song of Songs is ‫קדש קדשים‬.” Is ‫ קדש קדשים‬a simple superlative, “holiest,” or should it be understood as a more theologically significant reference to the inner sanctum of the Temple, “the Holy of Holies,” as some recent commentators suggest? As I will argue, the interpretation of ‫ קדש קדשים‬as a superlative expression is preferable on philological and contextual grounds. In the second part of this essay, I examine the history of interpretation of this mishnah and discuss the appearance of the interpretation of ‫“( קדש קדשים‬holiest”) in this passage as ‫הקדשים‬ ‫“( קדש‬the Holy of Holies”). As I will show, this interpretation only arises in Jewish literature relatively late in the 13th century C.E. mystical work, the Zohar.


The major English translations of the Mishnah are evenly divided in their renderings of Rabbi Akiva’s comment in m. Yad. 3:5 (‫)שכל הכתובים קדש ושיר השירים קדש קדשים‬. Herbert Danby compares Song of Songs to the Holy of Holies in his translation: “for all the Writings [n. Heb. ketubim, i.e. the Hagiographa] are holy, but the Song of Songs is the Holy of Holies.” 3 The translation in the Soncino Talmud similarly renders the phrase: “For all the writings are holy but the Song of Songs is the Holy of Holies.” 4 Phillip Blackman prefers a simple superlative rendering of the phrase: “for all the Hagiographa [n. Literally Writings] is sacred, but the Song of 10F


On the phrase ‫ מטמאין את הידים‬as indicating canonical status, see Sid Z. Leiman, The Canonization of Hebrew Scripture: The Talmudic and Midrashic Evidence (Hamden: Archon Books, 1976), 102. 3 Herbert Danby, The Mishnah, Translate from the Hebrew with Introduction and Brief Explanatory Notes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1933), 782. 4 Isidore Epstein, ed., Soncino Hebrew-English Edition of the Babylonian Talmud (trans. Maurice Simon; London: Soncino, 1960–1990), 547. 2

RABBI AKIVA’S CHARACTERIZATION OF SONG OF SONGS 65 Songs is the most sacred [of them all].” 5 Jacob Neusner renders this line similarly: “For all the Scriptures are holy, but the Song of Songs is holiest of all.” 6 Sid Z. Leiman, in his major study on the rabbinic evidence for canonization, also renders this sentence like Blackman and Neusner as a simple superlative: “for all the writings are holy, but the Song of Songs is the holiest of the holy.” 7 It might be argued that the Danby and Soncino translations reflect a rendering of the Hebrew idiom to highlight the pun of ‫ שיר השירים‬and ‫קדש קדשים‬ rather than an explicit correlation of Song of Songs to the holiest precinct of the Temple. When citing Rabbi Akiva’s statement in m. Yad. 3:5, recent commentators on Song of Songs adopt the translation offered in one of these translations or another. 8 These commentators primarily make use of this statement as an affirmation by Rabbi Akiva of Song of Songs’s canonical status in the first centuries of the common era. Other commentators on Song of Songs have, however, understood Rabbi Akiva’s statement in this mishnah as referencing the most sacred precinct of the Temple. For instance, Marvin H. Pope, in his commentary on Song of Songs in the Anchor Bible series, offers his own translation: “for all the Scripture are holy, but the Song of Songs is the Holy of Holies.” He describes the import of Rabbi Akiva’s utterance as metaphorically characterizing the text as 106F

Philip Blackman, Mishnayoth, vol. 6, Tehorot (London: Mishna Press, 1952), 764. 6 Jacob Neusner, The Mishnah, A New Translation (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988), 1127. 7 Leiman, The Canonization of Hebrew Scripture, 105–106. 8 For instance J. Cheryl Exum (Song of Songs, A Commentary [OTL; Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2005], 71) cites Neusner’s translation. Roland Murphy (The Song of Songs: A Commentary on the Book of Canticles or the Song of Songs [Hermeneia; ed. S. Dean McBride, Jr. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990], 6) and Richard Hess (Song of Songs [BCOTWP; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005], 20–21) cite Danby’s translation. Ariel and Chana Bloch (The Song of Songs, A New Translation [Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1995.], 28) follow Leiman. 5



“a veritable Holy of Holies.” 9 Pope’s translation and his interpretation of Rabbi Akiva’s statement in m. Yad. 3:5 cohere with his overall approach to Song of Songs, in which he understands the work as having affinities with sacred marriage rituals and cultic funerary feasts. 10 Thus, it is not a far cry for Pope to understand Rabbi Akiva’s statement about Song of Songs in this mishnah as comparing the work to the inner sanctum of the Temple, a focus of cultic activity in ancient Israel. Marc G. Hirshman interprets Rabbi Akiva’s statement as a description of the giving of Song of Songs as “a day of revelation, ‘worthier’ than the entire world; it is a day of entry into the most inner sanctum—the Holy of Holies.” 11 Judith A. Kates, following Hirshman, elaborates this comparison, But Rabbi Akiva’s implied comparison takes us further than mere hierarchy. His language for the Song—kodesh kodeshim— summons the physically destroyed, but textually (and therefore imaginatively) present and potent innermost core of holiness, guarded and secret, yet both containing and radiating outward the most intense manifestation of the presence of God in the midst of the world: the Holy of the Holies at the core of the sanctuary in Jerusalem. According to Rabbi Akiva, then, the day on which the Song of Songs was given to Israel creates, as Marc Hirshman puts it, “a day of entry into the most inner sanctum—the Holy of Holies.” 12

Marvin H. Pope, Song of Songs: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (AB 7c; New York: Doubleday, 1977), 19. 10 Ibid., 145–153, 210–229. 11 Marc G. Hirshman, A Rivalry of Genius: Jewish and Christian Biblical Interpretation in Late Antiquity (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1996), 83. Note that Hirshman (147, n. 4) points out that his interpretation coheres with Yonah Fraenkel’s interpretation of this mishnah, as mediated to Hirshman through Fraenkel’s students. 12 Judith A. Kates, “Entering the Holy of Holies: Rabbinic Midrash and the Language of Intimacy,” in Scrolls of Love: Ruth and the Song of Songs (ed. Peter S. Hawkins and Lesleigh Cushing Stahlberg; New York: Fordham University Press, 2006), 201–213, 349–350, here 201–202. 9

RABBI AKIVA’S CHARACTERIZATION OF SONG OF SONGS 67 Here Kates is careful not to state that Rabbi Akiva is comparing Song of Songs to the Holy of Holies, only that the comparison is “implied.” It may be the case, as Kates’s description suggests, that in an oral culture Rabbi Akiva’s description of Song of Songs as ‫ קדש קדשים‬may trigger associations to the Holy of Holies among the hearers of this mishnah. Larry L. Lyke offers a more elaborate comparison of Song of Songs to the holiest precinct of the Temple, where God is to be found, in ‫קדש הקדשים‬. He argues: In this final phrase Aqiba provides an insight that is as subtle as it is revealing about his cultural competence. First, he uses a term that is the syntactic equivalent of the name “Song of Songs.” In doing so, he suggests that the title makes reference not just to its greatness among all songs but to its ultimate sanctity as well. Furthermore, Aqiba associates the Song with the most sacred and restricted area of the temple, the holy of holies. Aqiba seems to suggest that the Song is the equivalent of the holy of holies, understood by extension as the temple. This is significant on several levels. Recall that the temple was the traditional locus of God’s presence in Israel. This is especially true of the holy of holies, which only the high priest was allowed to enter once a year. This restricted access reveals another subtlety suggested by Aqiba’s comment. Access to the Song, as the marker of the union of God with his people, may be as limited as was access to the holy of holies. Indeed, he suggests its title alludes to just this quality of the Song. The difference between the holy of holies and the Song of Songs, Aqiba seems to imply, is that the interpreter who must now enter that sacred domain rather than the priest. 13

Here Lyke goes beyond Kates in arguing that for Rabbi Akiva, access to Song of Songs as with the Temple is “the marker of the union of God with his people.” In this new configuration, the interpretation, “rather than the priest,” mediates the divine Larry L. Lyke, I Will Espouse You Forever: The Song of Songs and the Theology of Love in the Hebrew Bible (Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon Press, 2007), 91–92. 13



presence through His entrance into the “sacred domain” of Song of Songs. The trajectory of interpretation, which is evinced to varying degrees in the works of Pope, Hirshman, Kates, and Lyke, raises a number of important questions about the meaning of the comments attributed to Rabbi Akiva in m. Yad. 3:5. Is Rabbi Akiva making an explicit comparison between Song of Songs and the holiest precinct of the Temple? Or is he merely using the phrase to highlight the superlative character 14 of Song of Songs and to affirm, hyperbolically, its status within the canon of Scripture? Or is Rabbi Akiva’s statement attempting to affirm its superlative character and juxtapose it with the Holy of Holies? Mishnah Yadayim 3:5 clearly describes Song of Songs as ‫קדשים‬ ‫קדש‬, a reading attested in all major manuscripts of the Mishnah. 15 In the Hebrew Bible various writers generally use the term ‫הקדשים‬ ‫קדש‬, with the definite article, to refer to the inner sanctum of the Tabernacle 16 and ‫קדש קדשים‬, without the definite article, to designate the exemplary sanctity of particular people, cultic objects, and Temple precincts 17 as well as certain offerings. 18 The use of 15F


Saul Lieberman notes that traditional authorities interpreted this statement as meaning Song of Songs “is more holy than all the (other) songs that Solomon said” (‫ ;קדוש מכל השירים שאמר שלמה‬Saul Lieberman, “Mishnat Shir Ha-Shirim,” in Jewish Gnosticism, Merkabah Mysticism and Talmudic Tradition by Gershom G. Scholem [Hebrew; New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1965], 118–26, here 118 n. 2). 15 Budapest, MS Kauffman A 50; Parma “B”, Biblioteca Palatina 2596 (De Rossi 497); Parma “A,” Biblioteca Palatina 3173 (De Rossi 138); MS Munich 95; Cambridge; Paris; Jerusalem Heb 4o 1336. 16 Exod 26:33–34; 1 Kings 6:16, 7:50, 8:6; Ezek 41:4; 1 Chr 6:34; 2 Chr 3:8, 10; 4:22; 5:7. Except, Num 4:4, 19 where the term refers to the sum total of all the sacred objects, whose porterage is the responsibility of the Kohathites. Similarly, in Num 18:9–10 (compare Ezra 2:63 = Neh 7:65), the term serves to designate the most holy sacrifices. 17 Exod 29:37; 30:10, 29; 40:10; Ezek 43:12 (in reference to the boundaries of the Temple itself); 48:12 (in reference to the boundaries of levitical lands); Dan 9:24 (in apparent reference to the Temple precincts); 1 Chr 23:13. 14

RABBI AKIVA’S CHARACTERIZATION OF SONG OF SONGS 69 ‫ קדש קדשים‬as a superlative designation of sacral status also occurs in sectarian texts among the Dead Sea Scrolls. 19 Likewise in later tannaitic material, ‫ קדש הקדשים‬refers to the holiest place in the Temple (often in the phrase ‫ )בית קדש הקדשים‬20 and ‫קדש קדשים‬ continues to designate sacred objects. 21 ‫ קדש קדשים‬thus follows a typical pattern for indicating the superlative in Hebrew (compare ‫ עבד עבדים‬in Gen 9:26). Given this evidence, I argue that Rabbi Akiva is using the language of ‫ קדש קדשים‬to highlight the unique sanctity of Song of Songs rather than compare it specifically to the Holy of Holies. If he had wanted to explicitly compare Song of Songs to the Temple, he would have described ‫ שיר השירים‬as ‫הקדשים‬ ‫קדש‬, including the definite article. This point is made even more salient when one recognizes that the inclusion of the heh would have made Rabbi Akiva’s superlative pun even more elegant: ‫ושיר השירים קדש הקדשים‬. This understanding of Rabbi Akiva’s statement as simply highlighting the superlative character of Song of Songs in order to secure its status as an inspired canonical work is further supported when this statement is seen in the broader context of m. Yad. 3. The chapter as a whole deals with the conditions under which ritual impurity is transferred. Generally, those items that receive ritual impurity from an item made impure by contact with impurity cannot transfer that impurity to other items (3:2; ‫)אין שני עשה שני‬. The sages of the Mishnah decree that holy writings (and related items such as tefillin straps), though falling into the category of these items that are secondarily unclean even though they have not been rendered impure by contact, do “defile the hands” (ibid.; Exod 30:36; Lev 2:3, 10; 6:10, 18, 22; 7:1, 6; 10:12, 17; 14:13; 24:9; 27:28; note that the term ‫ קדשי הקדשים‬appears as the plural of ‫קדשים‬ ‫ קדש‬in Ezek 42:13, 44:13; 2 Chr 31:14; and in manuscript variants of Num 18:9–10. 19 E.g., 1QS 8.5–6; 4QMMT B.79. 20 E.g., m. Ber. 4:5, 6; m. Yoma 5:1; m. Mid. 4:5, 7; m. Kel. 1:9; m. Neg. 14:1; m. Par. 3:9; t. Šeqal. 1:5; t. Yoma 2:11, 13; t. Soṭah 13:2, 6; Mekilta de-Rabbi Yishmael, Yitro 2; Sipra, Parashah Shemini, Mekilta deMilu’im 34; Sipre Debarim 43, 328. 21 E.g., Sipra Parashat Tzav 1:11; Parashat Shemini 1:5. 18



‫)ןמטמאי את הידים‬. This assertion leads into a discussion regarding the minimum amount of Scripture that is required to defile the hands (85 letters; 3:4–5). 22 The Mishnah then continues in the second half of m. Yad. 3:5 with a disagreement regarding whether or not Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes render the hands impure. It begins with the declarative statement “All holy writings render the hands impure.” The debate that ensues has been taken in one of two ways. First, it can be viewed as a technical halakhic discussion regarding whether or not these two works should be included in the canon of ancient Israel’s “holy writings.” 23 Second, it could be understood more narrowly as a debate about whether or not Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes, as books that are a part of ancient Israel’s canon of holy writings, “render the hands impure.” 24 The specifics

Note also the additional specifications in m. Yad. 4:5 and Sipre Bemidbar 84. 23 E.g., Kates, “Entering the Holy of Holies,” 201; Exum, Song of Songs, 71; Pope, Song of Songs, 19; Murphy, The Song of Songs, 6; and Solomon Zeitlin, “An Historical Study of the Canonization of the Hebrew Scriptures,” PAAJR 3 (1931–32), 121–158, here 121, 132–133. 24 E.g., Leiman, The Canonization of Hebrew Scripture, 102, 119–120; Amoraic and later sources posed the question of “why the rabbis imposed ritual impurity” upon Scriptural texts. The answer offered at the time to this question was that the rabbis either wanted to protect the scrolls from mishandling or to prevent priests from storing their sacred scrolls with ‫“ תרומה‬consecrated food” (b. Šabb. 13b–14b). It is possible that these later sources did not understand the meaning of the cryptic statement: “All holy writings render the hands impure.” Cf. Michael J. Broyde, “Defilement of the Hands, Canonization of the Bible, and the Special Status of Esther, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs,” Judaism 44 (1995), 65–79, here 65; see ibid., 69–70 for a brief discussion of medieval halakhic authorities (including Maimonides, Šear Avot Hatumah 9:5) who agree, based on b. Meg. 7a and other texts, that these works are in the canon and defile the hands but who question the inspired status of these works as well as Esther. As John Barton (“The Canonicity of the Song of Songs,” Perspectives on the Song of Songs [ed. Anselm C. Hagedorn; Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2005], 4) has recently pointed out, “’Defiling the hands’ belongs to the world of ritual practice” and is not necessarily a cipher for canonical status. Contra Barton, it is worth noting that without this phrase 22

RABBI AKIVA’S CHARACTERIZATION OF SONG OF SONGS 71 of both positions are not directly pertinent to the focus of this essay. At the end of this mishnah, after Rabbi Akiva affirms the hand-defiling nature of Song of Songs, he states, “For the whole world does not equal the day on which Song of Songs was given to Israel.” Saul Lieberman, in his study of rabbinic evidence for the antiquity of the rabbinic mystical reading of Song of Songs, notes the implicit correlation in this statement by Rabbi Akiva of Song of Songs with Sinaitic revelation. 25 Kates rightly contends that the language of “was given” (‫ )שנתן‬is “precisely the same language characteristically used by the rabbis for the revelation of the Torah.” 26 She does not substantiate her assertion but rabbinic 124F

the Mishnah would have no term for “canonical status.” See also James Barr, Holy Scripture: Canon, Authority, Criticism (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1983), 50–51; Barton, The Spirit and the Letter: Studies in the Biblical Canon (London: SPCK, 1997), 108–115. Note that Martin Goodman (“Sacred Scripture,” 75) finds the proposals of Leiman and Barton to be too beholden to later attempts to explain the obscurity of this chapter of m. Yad. He offers a third option that the rabbis adopted the notion from the Pharisees, who were embarrased by reverential treatment of Scriptural scrolls and explained this “customary behaviour by asserting that the scrolls of the Torah must be handled with care because when touched they would defile the hands.” More recently, Timothy Lim (“The Defilement of the Hands as a Principle Determining the Holiness of Scriptures,” JTS 61 [2010], 500–515), building on Shamma Friedman’s work (“The Holy Scriptures Defile the Hands—The Transformation of a Biblical Concept in Rabbinic Theology,” in Minḥah le-Naḥum: Biblical and Other Studies Presented to Nahum M. Sarna in Honour of his 70th Birthday [ed. Marc Brettler and Michael Fishbane; JSOTSup 154; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993], 117–132), argues that m. Yad. 3:5 designates Scriptural status in comparison to the Ark, which is evoked in the discussion of the Song of the Ark earlier in this chapter. On analogy with lethal contact with the holiness of the Ark, the rabbis, in Lim’s analysis, sought to limit contact with the holiness of Scripture, by declaring Scripture’s conveyance of ritural impurity upon contact. 25 Liebermann, “Mishnat Shir ha-Shirim,” 118–119. 26 Kates, “Entering the Holy of Holies,” 201.



literature is replete with examples of such language. 27 The parallel between Rabbi Akiva’s phraseology in this mishnah (‫לישראל‬ ‫ )יום שנתן בו שיר השירים‬and that in tannaitic descriptions of the time when the Torah was given to Israel (e.g., ‫שנתנה תורה לישראל‬ ‫ שבשעה‬28 or ‫ באיזה יום נתנה תורה לישראל‬29) further bolsters Lieberman’s and Kates’s observations. Thus, in his statement in m. Yad. 3:5, Rabbi Akiva draws a parallel between the manner in which the Torah was given to Israel and the way in which Song of Songs was given to Israel. Both were given to Israel through divine revelation. By describing Song of Songs as on par with the Torah, Rabbi Akiva further secures its status in the category of inspired holy writings. This point is further seen in his next statement, which is the subject of this chapter: “For all the writings are holy, but Song of Songs is the holiest.” The Hebrew word, which I render here as “writings” (‫)כתובים‬, is the same word for the third division of the Jewish canon in later articulations of the canon. 30 Rabbi Akiva may be using it as shorthand for the phrase ‫“ כתבי קדש‬holy writings,” which appeared at the beginning of this half of this mishnah and is generally understood “to be,” as B. Barry Levy notes, “the equivalent of Hagiographa, ‘holy writings,’ the third section of the Hebrew Bible.” 31 The context of the debate over the status of Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs indicates that this understanding is indeed correct. Although Rabbi Akiva’s description of Song of Songs in language evocative of Sinaitic revelation suggests the later is the case. Whether one adopts the narrow definition of ‫ כתובים‬as F

Note that the root ‫ נתן‬uniquely refers to divine revelation in tannaitic literature only in the technical formulation ‫ ;מתן תורה‬e.g., Sipre Debarim 343. 28 Mekilta de-Rabbi Yishmael, Amaleq 3 (ad Exod 18:1). 29 Mekilta de-Rabbi Yishmael, Vayyasa 2 (ad Exod 16:1). 30 Hirshman, A Rivalry of Genius, 83. 31 B. Barry Levy, Fixing God’s Torah: The Accuracy of the Hebrew Bible Text in Jewish Law (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 12–13. Levy also notes that this understanding of the phrase may be a derived meaning, the phrase originally meaning “the writings of the Holy One” or “the writings of the sanctuary.” 27

RABBI AKIVA’S CHARACTERIZATION OF SONG OF SONGS 73 indicating the third division of the canon (as Blackman and Danby do in their translations) or the broader understanding of the term as Scripture (as Maimonides, Neusner, and Soncino do), Rabbi Akiva is defining Song of Songs as the holiest of the ‫כתובים‬. He highlights its superlative holiness in order to secure its status as an inspired canonical work. 32 Elsewhere in tannaitic material Song of Songs’s status as an inspired canonical work is secured by specific assertion of its inspiration by the Holy Spirit. As Rabbi Shimon ben Manasya is quoted as stating, “The Song of Songs renders the hands impure because it was said by the Holy Spirit” (t. Yad. 2:14). As in m. Yad. 3:5, Song of Songs renders hands impure because it derives from God. Rabbi Akiva, however, does not appeal to the Holy Spirit to make such an assertion. Although there is not, therefore, in my estimation enough evidence to support the argument that Rabbi Akiva is comparing Song of Songs in m. Yad. 3:5 to the holiest precinct of the Temple, I do not foreclose the possibility that-Rabbi Akiva’s purported statement presumes an understanding of Song of Songs as a divine love song, and perhaps even an esoteric text, as it is often interpreted. 33 Indeed, it is unquestionable that the interpretation of Song of Songs as a divine love song was the predominate interpretation in tannaitic literature. 34 While the sages of the 130F

As Leiman (The Canonization of Hebrew Scripture, 123) describes this and other passages in rabbinic literature that discuss the status of Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes: “The canonical status of Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs was acknowledged by all the disputants at Jamnia; whatever doubts were raised concerned the inspired character of the two books.” 33 On this point, note the comments of Kates, Lyke, and Pope discussed above. On the existence of an esoteric Jewish interpretation of Song of Songs in antiquity, see David Stern, “Ancient Jewish Interpretation of the Song of Songs in a Comparative Context,” in Jewish Biblical Interpretation and Cultural Exchange: Comparative Exegesis in Context (ed. Natalie B. Dohrmann and David Stern; Philadelphia, Pa.: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), 87–107, 263–272, here 96–98. 34 On this topic, see Jonathan Kaplan, My Perfect One: Typology and Early Rabbinic Interpretation of Song of Songs (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015) and Daniel Boyarin, Intertextuality and the Reading of Midrash 32



generation of Rabbi Akiva may know of such mystical interpretations, his superlative description of Song of Songs in m. Yad. 3:5 should be taken first and foremost as an attempt to secure the work’s status as inspired, canonical literature. 35 His allusion to Sinai is equally as hyperbolic as his punning description of Song of Songs as ‫קדש קדשים‬. Song of Songs is Holy Scripture like Torah, revealed like Torah, and should be treated like Torah. Truly Song of Songs is the holiest of all Scripture: ‫קדש ושיר השירים קדש קדשים‬ ‫שכל הכתובים‬.


My contention that Rabbi Akiva’s purported statement in m. Yad. 3:5 should be read as a superlative is supported by the history of interpretation of both Song 1:1 and this mishnah in particular. For instance, when the debate over the canonical status of Song of Songs and other writings reappears in rabbinic literature (e.g., m. ‘ed. 3:5; (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1994), 105–116. A version of this section of Intertexuality was also published as “The Song of Songs: Lock or Key? Intertextuality, Allegory and Midrash,” in The Book and the Text: The Bible and Literary Theory (ed. Regina M. Schwartz; Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990), 214–230; and in the recent Hebrew edition of Intertextuality: Tannaitic Midrash: Intertextuality and the Reading of Mekilta (Hebrew; trans. David S. Luvish and Ruti Bar-Ilan; Jerusalem: Shalom Hartman Institute, 2011), 169–184. 35 Ephraim E. Urbach (“Homiletical Interpretations of the Sages and the Exposition of Origen on Canticles, and the Jewish-Christian Disputation” [Hebrew], Tarbiz 30 [1960], 149–169, here 150) argues that Rabbi Akiva’s statements in m. Yad. 3:5 are “linked to the mystical interpretation of Song of Songs” (‫בדרך הפרשנות המיסתית של שיר השירים‬ ‫)קשורה‬. Note, however, Marc G. Hirshman’s caution (A Rivalry of Genius, 85), “Although Urbach tried to cull remnants of exegeses on the Song of Songs that are either mystical in character or concerned with mystical topics, the truth is that the evidence for this relies on a few, isolated examples.” Even if the evidence is limited, it connects Song of Songs, in Lieberman’s analysis (“Misnat Shir ha-Shirim,” 126), not to the world of Temple practice, but to Sinai and the Crossing of the Sea as well as the categories of revelation and anthropomorphism.

RABBI AKIVA’S CHARACTERIZATION OF SONG OF SONGS 75 t. Yad. 2:14; b. Meg. 7a), there is no reference to the Temple or the Torah or Rabbi Akiva’s superlative statement. Rather, the focus is on each text’s inspired status. 36 This trajectory of not including references to the Temple or Torah continues in the earliest rabbinic discussions of Rabbi Akiva’s statement in m. Yad. 3:5. Song of Songs Rabbah 1:11 contains perhaps the first extant commentary in rabbinic literature on Rabbi Akiva’s statement in m. Yad. 3:5. After citing Rabbi Akiva’s comments from m. Yad. 3:5, the anonymous rabbinic interpreter describes Song of Songs as the finest flour of the wisdom of Solomon. Then, he describes it as the greatest of Israel’s hymnic literature: ‫ונשבח שירים נאמר‬, ‫שבשירים המסולסל שבשירים‬ ‫המעולה שבשירים המשובח השירים שיר‬ , ‫אמר )ח עמוס(דהיכלא שבחות היכל שירות והילילו‬ ‫דאת מה היך בעולם שירים שעשאנו למי‬

“Song of Songs,” the best of songs, the most excellent of songs, the finest of songs. Let us recite songs and praise to him who made for us songs in the world, as it says, “And they shall recite the songs of the Temple” (Amos 8:3), [that is,] the praises of the Temple.

In this rendering the interpreter does link Song of Songs to the Temple. The citation of Amos 8:3 is not meant, however, to highlight Song of Songs’s status as equal to the holiest precinct of the Temple. Rather, Song of Songs is the greatest of Israel’s songs to be sung in the Temple. Granted this section of Song of Songs Rabbah, in which both this tradition and Rabbi Akiva’s comments from m. Yad. 3:5 are cited, is characteristically anthological, but the absence of explicit juxtaposition of the holiest precinct of the Temple with Song of Songs suggests that the editor understood Rabbi Akiva to be making a simple superlative pun. A similar tradition of associating Song of Songs with liturgy to be recited in the Temple exists in Targum Canticles, which quotes the Ten Songs tradition following A similar focus on inspired status also appears in the commentaries on m. Yad. 3:5 by Rashi, Pinchas Kehati, and others (see also t. Sanh. 12:10; b. Sanh. 101a). 36



the citation of Song 1:1. The Targum locates Song of Songs as the ninth of Israel’s songs uttered, in this case by Solomon. 37 Targum Canticles does identify Song 3:7–5:1 with Solomon’s Temple and the Temple cult through its characteristic mode of historical allegory. Like Song of Songs Rabbah 1:11, however, Song of Songs is only uttered in the Temple not compared to its holiest precinct. The approach to Rabbi Akiva’s comments in m. Yad. 3:5 found in Song of Songs Rabbah is paralleled in Origen’s comments on the meaning of ‫ שיר השירים‬in the prologue to his commentary on Song of Songs. Post haec exigit nos consequentia sermonis dicere etiam de superscriptione ipsa Cantici Canticorum. Simile enim est hoc illis, quae in tabernaculo testimonii appellantur >sancta sanctorumopera operumsaecula saeculorumsancta sanctorum< in Exodo et quo different opera ab >operibus operum< in Numerorum libro, tractatibus, prout potuimus, dictum a nobis est. Sed et >saecula saeculorum< in locis quibus occurit, non omisimus et, ne eadem repetamus, illa sufficiant. 38

We must now pass on to our next point and discuss the actual title of ‘Song of Songs.’ You find a similar phrase in what were called holies of holies in the Tent of the Testimony [Exod 30:29 LXX], and again works of works mentioned in the Book of Numbers [Num 4:47 LXX], and in what Paul calls ages of ages [Rom 16:27]. In other treatises we have, as far as we were able, considered the difference between holies and holies of holies in Exodus, and between works and works of works in the Book of Numbers; neither did we pass over the expression age of ages in For a discussion of the Ten Songs tradition in Targum Canticles, see James L. Kugel, “Is There But One Song?” Biblica 63 (1982), 329–350, here 333. 38 Origen, Comm. Cant., Preface (GCS 33:79–80). Origen is alluding here to his discussion of this grammatical form in his Hom. Num. 5.2 (GCS 30.27:8–11). 37

RABBI AKIVA’S CHARACTERIZATION OF SONG OF SONGS 77 the passages where it occurs. Rather than repeat ourselves, therefore, we will let those comments suffice. 39

Though Origen does not reference Rabbi Akiva or his description of Song of Songs, he exposits the superlative form of ‫ שיר השירים‬in comparison with other superlative forms in a way similar to the statement from m. Yad. 3:5. Presumably Rufinus literarily translated Origen’s Greek into Latin in such a way as to preserve a literal rendering of the Hebrew form of the superlative. While Latin lacks definite articles, it is reasonable to interpret Origen’s comments here such that he does not compare the form ‫השירים‬ ‫ שיר‬with the inner sanctum of the Tabernacle, but with the act of sanctifying the Tabernacle and is accoutrements, conferring upon them the status of most holy (Exod 30:22–29). For Origen ‫השירים‬ ‫ שיר‬means “the greatest Song” just as ‫ קדש קדשים‬means “holiest.” He further emphasizes this point by alluding to his discussion elsewhere of two other superlative forms: “works of works” and “ages of ages.” In this regard Origin mirrors the elucidation of the exegetical import of the superlative formation ‫ שיר השירים‬found in the commentary of Hippolytus (ca. 170–235 CE). 40 In a departure from Hippolytus, Origen argues that all other songs, based on Gal 3:19, where “sung by prophets and angels,” i.e., “the friends of the Bridegroom.” In contrast Song of Songs is a hymn with unique status as the only Scriptural song sung by the Bridegroom himself, truly 138F

Origen, The Song of Songs Commentary and Homilies (trans. R. P. Lawson; ACW 26; New York: Paulist Press, 1957), 46; Note, I have modified Lawson’s translation by removing the definite article before “Song of Songs” and “holies of holies” as Latin does not have definite articles as Hebrew and Greek do. The exclusion of the definite articles emphasizes that Origen is concerned with the formation of the superlative and gives multiple Scriptural examples of the phenomenon. 40 See Hippolytus, Commentary on the Song of Songs 1.16. An important edition and discussion of Hippolytus’s commentary from both the Georgian and Greek editions is Yancy Warren Smith, “Hippolytus’ Commentary on the Song of Songs in Social and Critical Context” (Ph.D. diss., Brite Divinity School, 2009). 39



the greatest song. 41 Thus, in Origen’s writings, we see an interesting parallel to m. Yad. 3:5 and its early reception in classical rabbinical literature as affirming the superlative character of Song of Songs, but not correlating it with the most sacred precinct of the Temple.


While the earliest interpretation of m. Yad. 3:5 in Song of Songs Rabbah 1:11 and the similar interpretation of ‫ שיר השירים‬in Origen’s Commentary do not compare Song of Songs to the holiest precinct of the Temple, such a tradition does explicitly appear in Jewish thought, albeit relatively late, in an explication of m. Yad. 3:5 in the 13th century work of Jewish mysticism, the Zohar (2.145a-b). This explication of m. Yad. 3:5 occurs in an extended sermon attributed to Rabbi Yose in Parashat Terumah (specifically 2.145b). In this passage, Rabbi Yose interprets the superscription of Song of Songs as a description of the five sefirot (levels of divine emanation) that the sefira Shekinah must ascend in the sefirotic realm in order to reach the sefira Binah, understood as the Holy of Holies. 42 The whole Song of Songs, interpreted through midrashic juxtaposition of Song 1:1 with 1 Kings 5:12, is thus an earthly encoding of “the mystery of a thousand and five.” 43 While Rabbi Yose quotes the language of m. Yad. 3:5, ‫ושיר השירים קדש קדשים‬ to describe this journey of the Shekinah, he interprets it as meaning ‫ושיר השירים קדש הקדשים‬. Certainly, while Rabbi Akiva may not have intended to associate Song of Songs with the Holy of Holies, people who received Interestingly, Origen’s interpretation may have its basis in a variant of m. Yad. 3:5 found in the Palestinian midrashic tradition that refers to Song of Songs in similar terms: ‫“ כל השירים קדש ושיר השירים קדש קדשים‬all the [scriptural] songs are holy but the Song of Songs is the holiest.” Lieberman highlights this alternate rendering in “Mishnat Shir HaShirim,” 118; see references in nn. 1–2; see also Leiman, The Canonization of Hebrew Scripture, 105–106 and n. 502. Note that neither Lieberman or Leiman make any reference, however, to Origen. 42 The association of the sefira Binah with the Holy of Holies is also seen in Zohar 2.257b, 258b. 43 ‫ולית לך קרא בשיר השירים דלא אית ביה רזא דחמשה ואלף ודאי‬. 41

RABBI AKIVA’S CHARACTERIZATION OF SONG OF SONGS 79 his statements in m. Yad. 3:5 may have understood his comments in those terms. In other words they may have understood ‫קדשים‬ ‫ קדש‬as ‫קדש הקדשים‬. Yet, it is not until the Zohar that we first encounter a reading of m. Yad. 3:5 as evoking the holiest precinct of the Temple. While we have no examples of such a tradition of interpretation before what we find in the Zohar, and perhaps even an explicit avoidance of such an interpretation, there are two earlier Jewish sources that may be behind the tradition in the Zohar. First, I have already noted that Song of Songs Rabbah locates m. Yad. 3:5 in close proximity to a description of Song of Songs as being sung in the Temple. While this passage does not understand Song of Songs as corresponding to the holiest precinct of the Temple, the association of Song of Songs with this discussion of the location of its intonation could lay the foundation for associating Song of Songs with the Holy of Holies itself. Second, already in the Shiʿur Qomah, Song of Songs is employed to describe the divine body. The description of Rabbi Nathan explicitly stitches together Song 5:10– 16 and Isaiah 6:3. The later verse is a part of Isaiah’s well-known throne vision, a vision he receives in the Temple. Thus, one reading of this section of the Shiʿur Qomah could be construed as understanding Song of Songs as describing what goes on in the Holy of Holies. 44 While these points are not conclusive for appreciating the whole arc of this interpretive trajectory, they are suggestive of the factors that contributed to the association of Song of Songs with the Holy of Holies in Rabbi Yose’s interpretation in the Zohar. Interestingly, the tradition of interpreting Song of Songs as comparable to the Holy of Holies is already attested at a much earlier stage in Christian thought. The writings of Gregory (ca. 335–94 C.E.), the late fourth century bishop of Nyssa, provide the earliest extant example of an interpretation of Song of Songs that 142F

Sara Japhet’s recent discussion of the debates regarding the Shi‘ur Qomah and the interpretation of Song of Songs therein; Japhet, “The ‘Description Poems’ in Ancient Jewish Sources and in the Jewish Exegesis of the Song of Songs,” in A Critical Engagement: Essays on the Hebrew Bible in Honour of J. Cheryl Exum (ed. David J. A. Clines and Ellen van Wolde; Hebrew Bible Monographs 38; Sheffield: Sheffield-Phoenix Press, 2011), 216–229, here 220–223. 44



correlates it to the holiest precinct of the Temple. He writes in a homily the following interpretation of the work’s first words: Ἤδη τοίνυν ἐντὸς τοῦ ἁγίου τῶν ἁγίων γενώμεθα, ὅπερ ἐστὶ τὸ ᾆσμα τῶν ᾀσμάτων. ὡς γὰρ ἐν τῷ ἁγίῳ τῶν ἁγίων πλεονασμόν τινα καὶ ἐπίτασιν τῆς ἁγιότητος διὰ τῆς ὑπερθετικῆς ταύτης φωνῆς διδασκόμεθα, οὓτω καὶ διὰ τοῦ ἄσματος τῶν ᾀσμάτον μυστηρίων μυστήρια διδάσκειν ἡμᾶς ὁ ὑψηλὸς λόγος κατεπαγγέλλεται. 45

Let us the come within the Holy of Holies, that is, the Song of Songs. For from this superlative form of this expression we learn that there is a superabundant concentration of holiness within the Holy of Holies; and in the same way the exalted Word promises to teach us mysteries of mysteries by the agency of the Song of Songs. 46

Gregory builds here on Origen’s discussion of the formation of superlative in the title of Song of Songs. But Gregory moves beyond mere elucidation of the particularities of a grammatical form. In Gregory’s understanding, Song of Songs is not the Holy of Holies, but like the Holy of Holies it provides deeper access into the deepest divine mysteries, which are normally inaccessible to humanity, through the agency of “the exalted Word.” Thus, Gregory provides the first extant example of correlating Song of Songs to the Holy of Holies, a tradition of interpretation that would come to be central in later interpretations of the work. The phenomenological similarities between Gregory’s homily and Rabbi Yose’s statements in the Zohar are tantalizing. While Arthur Green and others have suggested significant engagement between the school that produced the Zohar and Christian thought, it may be impossible to prove a genetic connection between the two traditions in the case of connecting Song of Songs to the Holy of Gregory of Nyssa, Homiliae XV in Canticum Canticorum 1, in Gregorii Nysseni Opera (ed. Werner Jaeger et al), 6:26–27. 46 Gregory of Nyssa, Homilies on the Song of Songs (trans. Richard A. Norris Jr.; Writings from the Greco-Roman World 13; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2012), 29. 45

RABBI AKIVA’S CHARACTERIZATION OF SONG OF SONGS 81 Holies. 47 Rather, the safer course would be to suggest that the correlation of Song of Songs with the Holy of Holies in Rabbi Yose’s interpretation is the product of internal development in Jewish thought. As I have argued in this essay, the context of m. Yad. 3:5 suggests that Rabbi Akiva did not intend a juxtaposition of Song of Songs and the holiest precinct of the Temple. The earliest interpretation of this mishnah and a parallel tradition in Origen avoid such a mode of interpretation. Only in the mystical, pseudepigraphic compilation, the Zohar, and its use of m. Yad. 3:5, do we see the first clear evidence of a tradition of understanding Song of Songs not only as the holiest text, but also as the veritable Holy of Holies itself, a textual place of intimate encounter between Israel and her God. Thus, in the Zohar, ‫ שיר השירים‬is both ‫קדשים‬ ‫ קדש‬and ‫קדש הקדשים‬. While the translations of m. Yad. 3:5 in Danby and the Soncino Talmud as well as the discussions of this mishnah in the writings of Pope, Hirshman, Kates, and Lyke do make a similar link between Song of Songs and the Holy of Holies, it is ultimately unclear whether or not their readings are influenced by the Zohar. It is more likely that they, like the Zohar, make the same associations ancients might have made in hearing ‫ קדש קדשים‬as ‫קדש הקדשים‬.

E.g., Arthur Green, “Shekhinah, the Virgin Mary, and the Song of Songs: Reflections on a Kabbalistic Symbol in its Historical Context,” AJSR 26 (2002), 1–52. 47


THE SPIRIT AMONG THE SAGES: S EDER OLAM , THE END OF PROPHECY, AND SAGELY ILLUMINATION 1 NEHEMIA POLEN HEBREW COLLEGE, NEWTON CENTER, MASSACHUSETTS The rabbinic sages are typically assumed to have used rational principles of exegesis to interpret Scripture and to have eschewed illuminated interpretation as found in Qumran. Philip S. Alexander in his essay “‘A Sixtieth Part of Prophecy’: The Problem of Continuing Revelation in Judaism” writes that it is a “fundamental rabbinic dogma that the Torah was given once and for all, and that decisions as to its meaning lie solely with the competence of the collectivity of the Sages, relying on argument and persuasion.” 2 Based on a paper delivered November 18, 2012, Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting, Chicago, Illinois. Midrash Session Presentation: “The Spirit among the Sages: Illuminated Exegesis, the Putative ‘End of Prophecy’, and Tannaitic Midrash.” 2 Philip S. Alexander, “ ‘A Sixtieth Part of Prophecy’: The Problem of Continuing Revelation in Judaism,” in J. Davies, G. Harvey, and W.G.E. Watson, eds., Words Remembered, Texts Renewed: Essays in Honour of 1




Alexander quotes the famous Talmudic story about the dispute over the oven of Akhnai, with its powerful declaration by Rabbi Joshua that the Torah is not in heaven, and that the law follows the rule of the majority. Rabbi Eliezer’s appeals to miracles and a heavenly voice are disregarded as having no standing. Alexander writes that this is “a ringing affirmation of the rabbinic doctrine that prophecy has ceased.” 3 In the remainder of his essay Alexander nuances his conclusions and duly notes that even for the rabbis, lesser modes of divine communication did continue. He concludes that while prophecy never entirely disappeared even with rabbinic Judaism, yet rabbinic ideology was loath to acknowledge that fact, and the rabbis “chronologized the relationship between prophetism and scribalism: prophets belong to the past, scribes to the present.” 4 This view that the rabbis emphasized the discontinuity between their activity and that of the prophets is widely held, but has not gained universal assent. Frederick E. Greenspahn in his essay “Why Prophecy Ceased” notes that the rabbis “did not feel out of touch with the divine” and that “The tradition of the holy spirit’s departure itself allows for the continuation of divine communication via the Bat Qol, whereby God’s will is revealed to those who, in an earlier age, would have merited the holy spirit …” 5 Responding to this claim, Benjamin D. Sommer takes Greenspahn to task for stating that “prophecy continued after its supposed demise,” and Sommer underscores rabbinic sources stating that prophecy did in fact cease. Regarding messages by the ‫בת קול‬, Sommer points out that they were not regarded as “fullfledged prophecies” and that the ‫“ בת קול‬had no authority in halakhic matters.” 6 15F

John F.A. Sawyer (JSOT Supplement Series 195; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1995), 414–433, here 415. 3 Ibid., 417. 4 Ibid., 432. 5 Frederick E. Greenspahn, “Why Prophecy Ceased,” Journal of Biblical Literature 108,1 (1989), 37–49, here 43. 6 Benjamin D. Sommer, “Did Prophecy Cease? Evaluating a Reevaluation,” Journal of Biblical Literature 115,1 (31–47, here 39.



John R. Levison, “Did the Spirit Withdraw from Israel?”, vigorously supports the view of Greenspahn. Focusing on Tosefta Sotah 13.2–4, “When Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, the last of the prophets, died, the Holy Spirit ceased in [from] Israel,” Levison argues that in the broader context of Tosefta Sota, the meaning of this particular passage is that the Holy Spirit had ceased temporarily, and that the passage is actually “an affirmation of the renewal of the Holy Spirit among the rabbis.” 7 More recently, L. Stephen Cook has engaged in a comprehensive review of the primary and secondary sources, and concludes that “Second Temple Jews did, on the whole, tend to believe that prophecy had ceased in the Persian period.” 8 He summarizes the rabbinic view as follows: “Upon the deaths of the last prophets at the end of the Persian era, the Spirit of prophecy withdrew from Israel and had not as yet returned… In this connection, it is telling that the rabbis never appeal to contemporary prophets nor to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in order to give incontestable, binding force to their halakhic decisions.” 9 It is clear that scholars have examined much the same evidence on this topic but, emphasizing one pole or the other between continuity vs. discontinuity, have come to different, often opposing, conclusions. Rather than rehashing the same material yet again, the rest of this chapter will focus on an early rabbinic source that in my view has not received the attention it deserves and, when cited at all, has generally been truncated and misread. Seder Olam is an early work concerned primarily with Biblical chronology. It is part of the rabbinic corpus and is often associated with the genres of Midrash and Aggadah. Chaim Milikowsky calls it “an exegetically-based chronography focusing on the biblical John R. Levison, “Did the Holy Spirit Withdraw from Israel? An Evaluation of the Earliest Jewish Data,” New Testament Studies 43 (1997), 35–57, here 55. 8 L. Stephen Cook, On the Question of the “Cessation of Prophecy” in Ancient Judaism (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2011), 192. 9 Ibid., 172. 7



period” and translates the title as “ordering of the world.” 10 He considers the traditional attribution to the second-century Tannaic sage Rabbi Yose ben Halafta (c. 160 C.E.) essentially accurate, though with the understanding that Rabbi Yose was not author, but transmitter and editor of a still earlier work. The language of Seder Olam is Mishnaic Hebrew; the eminent Hebraist Moshe BarAsher lists it together with Mishnah, Tosefta, and the halakhic midrashim as comprising the literature of the Tannaim. 11 Chapter thirty, the last chapter of Seder Olam, reaching the end of the Biblical period, makes reference to “Alexander of Macedon who reigned twelve years.” It continues, Until here prophets would prophecy through the Holy Spirit; from here on “Incline your ear and hear the words of the wise” etc. “For it will be pleasant if you keep them within you” etc. “That your trust may be in the Lord” etc. “Have I not written for you thirty sayings” etc. “To show you what is right and true” etc. (Prov. 22: 17–21) So too it says, “Ask your father and he will inform you, your elders and they will tell you” (Deut. 32:7) 12

This passage of Seder Olam quotes six verses, five from Proverbs 22 and one from Deuteronomy 32. I have presented them as they appear translated in Milikowsky’s 1981 Yale dissertation. Milikowsky is the foremost contemporary student of Seder Olam, having devoted decades to analyzing this work and related matters; his efforts have culminated in the publication of a two volume

Chaim Milikowsky, “Seder Olam,” in Shmuel Safrai, Zeev Safrai, Joshua Schwartz, and Peter J. Tomson, eds., The Literature of the Sages, Second Part (Assen: Royal Van Gorcum and Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 2006), 231–237, here 231. 11 Moshe Bar-Asher, “Mishnaic Hebrew: An Introductory Survey,” in Steven T. Katz, ed., The Cambridge History of Judaism, Volume 4 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 369–403, here 369. 12 Chaim Milikowsky, Seder Olam: A Rabbinic Chronography (Ph.D. dissertation, Yale University, 1981), 546. 10



Hebrew critical edition (2013), a landmark scholarly achievement. 13 The critical edition gives us the same six verses. 14 I emphasize this point because in discussions of the putative ‘end of prophecy’ in Seder Olam, scholars almost invariably adduce only one verse from Proverbs, Prov. 22.17. For example, Benjamin Sommer cites the passage as follows: “Alexander of Macedonia reigned for twelve years. Until that time prophets spoke prophecies through the holy spirit (‫ ;)היו הנביאים מתנבאים ברוה"ק‬from that time on, ‘Incline your ear and listen to the words of the Sages.’” 15 Similarly, L. Stephen Cook: “ ‘A valiant king will arise … and when he arises, his kingdom will be broken and separated in the four directions of the sky’ (Dan. 11:3–4). That is Alexander the Macedonian who ruled for 12 years. Until that time there were prophets prophecying by the Holy Spirit; from there on “bend your ear and listen to the words of the wise’ (Prov. 22:17).” 16 The historian Isaiah Gafni, in an essay titled “Rabbinic Historiography and Representations of the Past,” presents this source as follows: “He is Alexander of Macedon who ruled for twelve years; until that time the prophets prophesied through the Holy Spirit, from then on bend your ear and hear [or: heed] the words of the sages.” 17 Sid Z. Leiman quotes thus: “Until then, the prophets prophesied by means of the holy spirit. From then on, give ear and listen to the words of the Sages.” 18 160F


Chaim Milikowsky, Seder Olam: Critical Edition, Commentary, and Introduction, 2 vols. (Jerusalem: Yad Ben-Zvi Press, 2013) 14 Milikowsky, Seder Olam (2013), Volume One: Introduction and Critical Edition, 322–323. 15 Sommer, “Did Prophecy Cease?”, 34. 16 Cook, On the Question, 156. 17 Isaiah Gafni, “Rabbinic Historiography and Representations of the Past,” in Charlotte Elisheva Fonrobert and Martin S. Jaffee, eds., The Cambridge Companion to the Talmud and Rabbinic Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 295–312, here 303. 18 Sid Z. Leiman, The Canonization of Hebrew Scripture: The Talmudic and Midrashic Evidence (Hamden, CT: Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1976), 66. 13



Scholars of an older generation followed the same pattern; see Ephraim Urbach’s Hebrew essay “When did Prophecy Cease?”; 19 the English translation of his rabbinic theology, The Sages, quotes Seder Olam as follows: “‘This is Alexander the Macedonian [i.e. Alexander the Great], who reigned 12 years. Till now the prophets prophesied through the medium of the Holy Spirit; from now on incline your ear and hearken to the words of the Sages.’” 20 Some of these exemplars do not even indicate that Seder Olam is quoting a verse. In this they may have followed a misleading cue in the Ratner edition, widely used by scholars before the appearance of Milikowsky’s work. Ratner places the word ‘‫שנאמר‬,’ introducing a Biblical quotation, after Prov. 22:17, suggesting that the words ‫ הט אזנך ושמע דברי חכמים‬are part and parcel of Seder Olam’s Mishnaic Hebrew and not a Biblical quote at all. 21 This is certainly a testament to Seder Olam’s literary skill, weaving the language of Proverbs so artfully with its own diction that the seams are barely visible; but this adds to the temptation to view the subsequent Biblical verses as superfluous and to drop them altogether. And the intermingling of the Biblical and Mishnaic registers of this passage is intensified by those scholars who chose to capitalize the word ‘sages,’ thus conflating Biblical Wisdom figures with rabbinic virtuosi hundreds of years later. Of course, in the first volume of his new critical edition, devoted to the text, Milikowsky faithfully transcribes all five verses from Proverbs, as well as the one from Deuteronomy 32. Yet he too appears to fix his gaze only on the first of the five verses from Proverbs. In the second volume of his work, devoted to commentary, he refers to “the two verses cited here, Proverbs 22:17 and Deuteronomy 32:7.” 22 To be sure, this remark follows in the footsteps of an earlier scholar of liturgy, Naphtali Wieder, who 16F

Tarbiz 17 (1946), 1–11, here 2. Ephraim E. Urbach, The Sages: Their Concepts and Beliefs, 2 vols. (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1979), vol. 1, 565. 21 Seder Olam Rabbah, edited by Ber Ratner (New York: Talmudic Research Institute, 1966 [Vilna, 1897]), 140. 22 Milikowsky, Seder Olam (2013), Volume Two: Commentary, 531. 19 20



speaks of the two verses as the “motto of Rabbinic Judaism.” 23 In any event, Milikowsky’s extensive discussion of this key Seder Olam passage does not engage the five verses from Proverbs, a strikingly large sequence, when the first verse would have served just fine— or so many readers have assumed. In part, lack of attention to these verses may reflect a more widespread pattern, evident in some scholarly readings of rabbinic literature, especially midrashic texts, whereby Scriptural citations are dismissively labeled as ‘prooftexts,’ treated as little more than rhetorical flourishes, grace notes that provide ornamentation to the main point, but are not essential to it. I vigorously take issue with this attitude, but even if we were to entertain it momentarily for the sake of argument, it is certainly not appropriate here. Seder Olam’s deployment of verses always adheres to the plain sense and is on point, directly and clearly relevant to pursuing the text’s chronographic goals. As Milikowsky writes, “The modes of exegesis found in Seder Olam are radically different from those common in midrashic literature. Seder Olam does not disregard grammar, context or logic when reconstructing dates and ages.” 24 When several verses are quoted, they are all required to develop the idea at hand. So we must ask, What did Seder Olam have in mind with its perseverant citation of no less than five sequential verses from one chapter of Proverbs? Naphtali Wieder, The Formation of Jewish Liturgy in the East and the West, vol. I (Jerusalem: Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1998), 339, n. 94. 24 Chaim Milikowsky, “Trajectories of Return, Restoration and Redemption in Rabbinic Judaism: Elijah, the Messiah, the War of Gog and the World to Come,” in J. M. Scott, ed., in Restoration: Old Testament, Jewish and Christian Perspectives (Suppl. to the Journal for the Study of Judaism, vol. 72; Leiden: Brill, 2001), 265–280, here 279; idem, “Appendix Two: Seder Olam As a First or Second Century Composition,” 198–200, appendix to “Josephus Between Rabbinic Culture and Hellenistic Historiography,” in James Kugel, ed., Shem in the Tents of Japhet: Essays on the Encounter of Judaism and Hellenism (Suppl. to the Journal for the Study of Judaism, vol. 74; Leiden: Brill, 2002), 159–200, here 198. 23




I present the five verses here, first in Hebrew and then in translation. 22:17 .‫הט אזנך ושמע דברי חכמים ולבך תשית לדעתי‬ 22:18 . ‫כי נעים כי תשמרם בבטנך יכנו יחדו על שפתיך‬ 22:19 .‫להיות בה' מבטחך הודעתיך היום אף אתה‬ 22:20 .‫הלא כתבתי לך שלישים במועצות ודעת‬ 22:21 .‫להודיעך קושט אמרי אמת להשיב אמרים אמת לשלחיך‬ 22:17 Incline your ear, and hear the words of the wise, and apply your heart to my knowledge.

22:18 For it is pleasant if you safeguard them in your belly; Let them be established together on your lips.

22:19 That you may put your trust in the LORD; I have made them known to you today—Yes, you!

22:20 Indeed I wrote down for you a three-fold lore, of counsels and knowledge.

22:21 To let you know certainty—words of truth, that you may bring back words of truth to the one who sent you.

While Milikowsky’s edition does not transcribe all verses in full, I have supplied the endings of each verse. The scribal '‫— וגו‬present in Milikowsky’s text at vs. 20–21, and more copiously in the mss.— is an invitation for the reader to complete the verse. It should also be noted that Oxford University Bodleian Library ms Opp. 317, designated by Milikowsky as manuscript ‫א‬, transcribes all five verses in full. The translation attempts to track the Hebrew closely; it being understood that in some places (especially v. 20) the original text has been much discussed and remains obscure. The aim here is not to resolve all uncertainties, but to gain some access to what Seder Olam had in mind. For guidance, I turn to Michael V. Fox, who produced the Anchor Yale Bible volume on Proverbs, as well as Proverbs in the Jewish Study Bible. Fox treats verses 17 through 21 as a unit, an



introduction to what he calls the “Amenemope Collection,” referring to an older Egyptian wisdom treatise that this section of Proverbs closely resembles. 25 While this is unlikely to have been known to the authorship of Seder Olam, it is especially relevant for our purposes to take note of Fox’s comments on verse 19, where he underscores the emphatic nature of the verse, as if it were written in boldface. First of all, the divine Name is highlighted by its forward placement in the verse, suggesting trust in God “rather than in your own independent powers and faculties.” 26 And the “you today—Yes, you!” is clearly emphatic; the passage arrives in a veritable shout, demanding attention. As Fox puts it, “The sole reason that you—with you specifically in mind—I have taught you these things today is to teach you to place your trust in the Lord alone.” 27 Turning to verse 21, Fox identifies ‫ קושט‬as an Aramaism; the clause is a superlative, literally “the truth of words of truth.” With the further occurrence of ‫ אמת‬in the second clause, the verse as a whole emphasizes “truth” three times. The effect is captured by Robert Alter, whose translation has “the utmost true sayings.” 28 Taking all this together, the message is an emphatic assertion of the ‘truth’ of sagely words, not based on human reason, but on trust in God. Sagely responses to queries can be accepted confidently, because they rely on Godly truth, not human reason. If this is indeed the “motto of Rabbinic Judaism,” as Naphtali Wieder has it, then the assertion of sagely authority is grounded in the rabbis’ closeness to God, not in any presumed superior rational faculties. This rules out any suggestion of legal positivism. One must hear the declamatory force of the ringing “you today—Yes, you!,” and the repeated insistence on the “truth” of sagely teaching, 173F

Michael V. Fox, The Anchor Yale Bible: Proverbs 10–31 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009), 707–713; cf. Michael V. Fox, Proverbs, in Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, ed., The Jewish Study Bible (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 1482. 26 Fox, Anchor Yale Bible, 708. 27 Fox, Anchor Yale Bible, 709. 28 Robert Alter, The Wisdom Books: Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes (New York and London: W. W. Norton, 2010), 289. 25



not based on mental agility, but on spirit, on Godly intimacy—just as it was for the prophets. Like modern critical readers, Seder Olam takes Proverbs 22:17–21 as an ensemble, a unit of direct address and extraordinary power. This ensemble also mentions a written document (v. 20),—according to Fox, a reference unparalleled in Proverbs. 29 The combination of oral response to queries (v. 21) grounded in written text is of course precisely the culture of rabbinic Judaism. All of this is quite different from the effect of Seder Olam based on the clipped text of v. 17 in isolation. The truncated reading that has governed scholarly discussion leaves the impression that the main point is the authority of sages. This further invites a suggestion of discontinuity, a disjunction between the prophetic period and the sagely period. And in turn, this allows for the scholarly commonplace that rabbinic determinations are based on human reasoning. We recall Alexander’s formulation that “the Torah was given once and for all, and … decisions as to its meaning lie solely with the competence of the collectivity of the Sages, relying on argument and persuasion.” 30 A similar view is expressed by the eminent Israeli Talmudist, Yaakov Sussman, who writes of what he sees as the vast gap between the views on Scripture and prophecy held by the Dead Sea sect on the one hand, and the early sages on the other. According to Sussman, the sect held that Scriptural interpretation is guided by the “spiritual inspiration and numinous authority” of a designated charismatic interpreter (Doresh ha-Torah), while “the Pharisees held that the Torah is sealed, ‘not in heaven,’ meant to be interpreted by rational means (hermeneutic rules), that are available to any student of Torah with the intellectual capacity.” 31 Similarly, Ephraim Urbach’s early articles on the end of prophecy have been summarized by Sussman as “Urbach’s manifesto on the way one should approach the rabbinic world: as a Fox, Anchor Yale Bible, 709. See n. 2. 31 Yaakov Sussman, “The History of Halakhah and the Dead Sea Scrolls—Preliminary Observations on Miqsat Ma’ase HaTorah (4QMMT),” Tarbiz 59 (1990), 11–76, here 58, n. 185. 29 30



society characterized by a set of rational principles, not dominated by the guidance of revelation and prophecy typical of the Biblical world.” 32 But this scholarly view, while well attested in later sources such as the Babylonian Talmud, is not appropriate for the early Tannaitic period. There is ample evidence that early rabbinic sages considered their decisions as guided by Holy Spirit. I hope to address Mishnaic, Toseftan, and halakhic-midrash texts on this topic in a subsequent essay, but for now I quote Menahem Kahana, who, in a close reading of Mishnah-Tosefta Yadayim among other sources, highlights the Tannaitic voice that sages determine halakhah by means of Spirit: it is true that sages deliberate, argue and vote, but these deliberations are themselves guided by divine Spirit. 33 Kahana cites Menahem Kister, who shows the connection between the early rabbinic notion of confirmation of sagely determinations by revelation on the one hand, and Qumran illuminated interpretation on the other. 34 Our passage in Seder Olam, as it reaches the end of the Biblical period, recognizes that the role of sage has replaced that of prophet, but there is no claim that the Holy Spirit has departed. This reading is buttressed when we note that an earlier passage of Seder Olam has it that “After the Torah was given to Israel, the Holy Spirit ceased from among the nations.” ‫משניתנה תורה לישראל‬ As presented by Oded Irshai, “Ephraim E. Urbach and the Study of Judeo-Christian Dialogue in Late Antiquity—Some Preliminary Observations,” in Matthew Kraus, ed., How Should Rabbinic Literature Be Read in the Modern World? (Judaism in Context 4; Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2006), 167–197, here 177. 33 Menahem Kahana, “On the Fashioning and Aims of the Mishnaic Controversy,” Tarbiz 73,1 (2003), 51–82; see esp. 60–63. 34 Menahem Kister, “Wisdom Literature and its Relation to Other Genres: From Ben Sira to Mysteries,” in J. J. Collins, G. E. Sterling and R. A. Clements, eds., Sapiential Perspectives: Wisdom Literature in Light of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Proceedings of the Sixth International Symposium of the Orion Center for the Study of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Associated Literature, 20–22 May, 2001), Leiden 2004, 13–47, esp. 21–22 (cited by Kahana, 61, n. 45). 32



‫ פסקה רוח הקודש מן האומות‬35 But with reference to the transition from prophets to sages, the word ‫פסקה‬, ‘ceased,’ is not used. It is proximity and continuity with the prophetic period that gives the assurance of truth to the words of the sages; conversely, only sages can illumine the sense of Scripture. The two complement each other and are mutually interdependent. What is emphasized is not rupture but succession, the transferral of authority to the sages precisely because they are successors to the prophets. In an earlier study of Mishnah-Tosefta Hagigah and its restrictions on exegesis of certain Biblical passages, I argued that the concern was not secrecy, but the activity of derashah in the mode of inspired exegesis or pneumatic interpretation. 36 I showed that in the Tannaitic period, some modes of derashah were considered not merely inspired and pneumatic, but performative and transformative; that is, they could make things happen in the world. Derashah could unleash power, which may be dangerous and which needs to be governed by restrictive rules. By the same token, the assertion of this power supports rabbinic claims to be the genuine successors of the prophetic tradition and to be the legitimate stewards of the Divine presence within the Jewish people. The present chapter attempted to demonstrate how a belief in sagely truth, based on divine proximity, rather than human reason, was already evidenced in the early text Seder Olam. Milikowsky’s work makes Seder Olam available in a meticulously edited version. If his proposal for situating this text well before the end of the Tannaitic period finds wide acceptance—as I believe it should— then the impact on the study of early rabbinics promises to be wide-ranging and significant. I hope to have provided one significant example of how this might unfold. Seder Olam, end of ch. 21, Milikowsky, Seder Olam (2013), Volume One: Introduction and Critical Edition, 288. 36 See Nehemia Polen, “Derashah as Performative Exegesis” in Lieve Teugels and Rivka Ulmer, eds., Midrash and the Exegetical Mind: Proceedings of the 2008 and 2009 SBL Midrash Sessions (Judaism in Context 10; Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2010), 123–54. 35


B LESSED BE H E , WH O R EMEMBERED TH E E ARLIER DEEDS AND OVERLOOKS TH E L ATER : PRAYER, BENEDICTIONS, AND LITURGY IN THE NEW RHETORIC GARB OF LATE MIDRASHIC TRADITIONS LENNART LEHMHAUS FREIE UNIVERSITÄT BERLIN, GERMANY Despite the important role that prayers, benediction and liturgy play as vivid elements of Jewish life, scholarship on the cultural history of these elements has played rather a marginal role for a long time. Earlier scholarship on liturgy, prayer and minhag largely focused on the immediate context of the Jewish prayer books (siddurim). Most studies mined rabbinic literature and Geonic responsa only for relevant liturgical Halakhah. Or, scholars looked for accounts of prayer or praying, attested in Talmudic and Midrashic sources, as evidence for the early formation history of




Jewish liturgy (e.g., Amidah/Birkat ha-minim, etc. in Mishnah). 1 However, new perspectives and new approaches have come into play during the last three decades. Moreover, the strict separation or seclusion of scholarly sub-fields in Jewish Studies began to disintegrate and former academic boundaries became blurred. This holds true not only in case of the more recent interest in the interplay between Midrash and Piyyut. 2 Also the interest in the literary and social functions of prayers, benedictions and other liturgical elements has increased. Earlier scholarship on prayer has focused much on the siddurim and liturgical Halakhah. In recent years studies have shown that other genres, like the later midrashic traditions, also might be an important source for the formation of prayers, liturgy and minhagim. As recent studies have shown, Pirqe de-Rabbi Eliezer (Pirqe R. El.) provides the text with some etiological narratives to authorize certain rituals. Additionally, quotations or allusions to the benedictions of the Amidah are integrated into the Although a process of standardization of liturgical elements probably began as early as the first century C.E., most discussions about prayers and benedictions can be found only in some rabbinic works like Mishnah and the two Talmudim that focus on halakhic question of daily rituals and elaborate upon the theological implications of prayer. Cf. Stefan C. Reif, Judaism and Hebrew Prayer: New Perspectives on Jewish Liturgical History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 53–121. 2 For studies regarding the close interplay between Midrash and Piyyut in their cultural contexts, see, for example, Ophir Münz-Manor, “Liturgical Poetry in the Late Antique Near East. A Comparative Approach,” Journal of Ancient Judaism 1 (2010), 336–361; Laura S. Lieber, Yannai on Genesis: An Invitation to Piyyut (Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 2010); Michael Fishbane, “Piyut and Midrash: Between Poetic Invention and Rabbinic Convention,” in Michael Fishbane and Joanna Weinberg, eds., Midrash Unbound: Transformations and Innovations (Oxford: The Littman Library, 2013), 99–135. On the socio-historical context of this nexus see Seth Schwartz, Imperialism and Jewish Society: 200 B.C.E. to 640 C.E. (Princeton/Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2002), esp. 263– 273; Laura S. Lieber, “The Rhetoric of Participation: Experiential Elements of Early Hebrew Liturgical Poetry,” The Journal of Religion 90, 2 (2010), 119–147. 1

PRAYER AND LITURGY IN LATE MIDRASHIC TRADITIONS 97 text’s discourse as summarizing and concluding devices for a discussion or a chapter. In Midrash Tanḥuma and other homiletical Midrashim one also finds a variety of similar phenomena. The literary utilization of benedictions is even known from geonic texts like the She’iltot. 3 This chapter addresses the rhetoric usage of modified prayers and benedictions (e.g., Birkat ha-Torah/Pesuqei de-Zimra/Qaddishdoxology etc.) as literary and didactic devices, deeply interwoven with their textual and discursive context in one specific tradition. Seder Eliyahu Zuta (SEZ), as well as its fellow-text Seder Eliyahu Rabbah (SER), are fascinating rabbinic works that were most probably composed in the Geonic period (9th–10th c.). The texts display a unique, though hybrid, character between a moral guidebook for righteous conduct, narrative elaboration of Biblical themes, and learned exposition (or Midrash). Of special importance are adoptions, adaptations and innovative transformations of “classical” rabbinic genres, exegetical-hermeneutical techniques and terminology for the text’s own purposes. SEZ’s creative handling of traditional forms, as well as its original literary innovations, render this work exceptional among the post-Talmudic Jewish traditions. Moreover, this fresh approach is paired with intertextual sophistication. The text employs quotes and references to various rabbinic traditions as literary tools, in order to anchor its own discourse in the authority of the Written and Oral Torah.


Although Seder Eliyahu does not place the same emphasis on prayer and blessings as can be found in the liturgical discussions and commentaries of the Geonim or in the siddurim, praying figures as one of the key elements in the discourse of the work. Similar to other small forms, prayers and reference to liturgical elements do For more details of prayer in Pirqe R. El. see Rachel Adelman, The Return of the Re-pressed: Pirqe de-Rabbi Eliezer and the Pseudepigrapha (Leiden: Brill, 2009), 265–269. For the other elements and further discussion see below. 3



serve in Seder Eliyahu as stylistic or discursive devices for the mediation of its central religious and ethical thoughts. 4 A quantitative survey of the material in SEZ shows the total number of seven different word-forms based on the root PaLaL (‫ )פלל‬5 as well as twenty-one words stemming from the root BaRaKH (‫ )ברכ‬6 that are used in the text. 7 It seems, as we will see 187F


Most studies on SER and SEZ largely ignored liturgical aspects of those works. Meir Friedmann, Seder Eliyahu Rabbah und Seder Eliyahu Zuta (Tanna d'be Eliyahu) (Wien, 1902), 77–83, provides a list of parallels between SE and the geonic siddurim. Kadushin’s study touches upon most of the passages in SER, SEZ and PSEZ without explaining their relationship to rabbinic or geonic literature or examining the literary and discursive appropriation of the material. Kadushin describes two types of prayer (plea/praise), two sources of authority (direct divine revelation/rabbinic oral traditions), and discusses the approaches to prayer prevalent in SER. Cf. Max Kadushin, The Theology of Seder Eliahu: A Study in Organic Thinking (New York: Bloch, 1932), 137–162. 5 If one deducts two instances that appear in Biblical verses, the total number of the form PaLaL in SEZ is five, dispersed in three different passages (SEZ 2, 6, and 9). In the so called Pseudo-SEZ 16–25 one can discern eight relevant forms in four different contexts. The whole text of SER contains 43 forms (including six Biblical quotes) related to PaLaL which appear in thirteen of thirty-one chapters. A striking accumulation of those forms can be observed in chapters SER 9 (seven forms and one Biblical verse) and SER 18 (ten occurrences and two Biblical quotations). However, the total number of occurrences in SER should not blur the overall picture. The relative frequency of these word-forms, in relation to the different length of the works, in SER and SEZ is almost the same. A detailed comparison of the content of all passages is beyond the scope of this study. 6 Among these we find two Biblical quotes and one mentioning within a framing poem that is not part of the core-text. The other occurrences one finds in seven chapters of SEZ, with a certain density in the chapters 2 and 4 that will be discussed in the following. Pseudo-PSEZ contains thirty-five word-forms in five passages (among them six in Biblical quotes). Especially in chapter PSEZ 20 one notices an accumulation of relevant terminology, due to its focus on the saying of blessings in eschatological times. A very high number for the root 4

PRAYER AND LITURGY IN LATE MIDRASHIC TRADITIONS 99 later, that for some liturgical features Seder Eliyahu provides the earliest source for its wording. However, in contrast to earlier scholarship, precaution is demanded, if one intends to establish direct relationships of dependency between the liturgical aspects and texts featured in Seder Eliyahu and the elements of commmon Jewish liturgy known to us. Such an approach eschews the insight that the liturgy, though becoming more fixed in the siddurim and maḥzorim from the ninth century C.E. onwards, was never immune to stylistic and textual variation and interpolation, based on the needs and religious proclivities of the praying congegration. 8 Thus, in light of the unsettled state of research into pre-geonic liturgy, the inconsistencies of the manuscript tradition of the siddurim, and the

BaRaKH is apparent in SER where only nineteen of 202 instances are part of Biblical quotations. However, this great quantity of occurrences in SER is owed to the excessive use of the epithet Ha-maqom barukh-hu (‫המקום‬ ‫ )ברוך הוא‬and the frequent attribution of the doxology “His great name shall be blessed forever and to all eternity” (‫יהא שמו הגדול מבורך לעולם‬ ‫ )ולעולמי עולמים‬that will be addressed below. 7 The counting of BaRaKH-forms does not consider the common rabbinic epithet “The Holy One, blessed be He” (‫)הקדוש ברוך הוא‬. This divine name can be found in fifty-six occurrences in all fifteen chapters of SEZ. The earliest sources for this epithet can be found in Mishnah Nedarim 3:11, Sotah 5:5, and Avot 3:2; 5:4. Ephraim Urbach suggests that this divine name is a rather late development within rabbinic traditions, since it only prevailed in Amoraic times. Cf. Ephraim E. Urbach, The Sages: Their Concepts and Beliefs (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1979), 77ff. See also S. Esh, Der Heilige (Er sei gepriesen): Zur Geschichte einer nachbiblisch-hebräischen Gottesbezeichnung (Leiden: Brill, 1957). 8 The very late fixation of prayer texts might be explained by the rabbinic reluctance towards the production of written versions of religious texts (especially the Oral Lore). Cf. T. Shabbat 13:4: “Who writes down Berakhot is like someone who burns the Torah.” The style and format of the prayer-books varied according to the local customs (minhagim). Besides the stable corpus of the liturgy, one finds many liturgical poems (piyyutim), halakhic commentaries, Biblical passages in translation, or ethical or edifying texts from rabbinic literature (e.g. Avot). Cf. Stefan C. Reif, “Gebetbücher-III. Judentum,” in RGG, vol. 3, 4. Completely revised ed. (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2000), 510f.



problems for an exact date of Seder Eliyahu, every attempt of stemmatic analysis seems doomed to fail. 9 However, I would not totally repudiate the comparative approach, since a careful reading of SE and its parallels in rabbinic and geonic traditions might give some indication about the popularity of certain liturgical elements and of the ideas they convey. Therefore, the following study will apply a literary and discursive investigation of the material, with a special focus on the religious and ethical values emphasized. In Seder Eliyahu we can distinguish between three different ways in which the prayers, praying, and other liturgical issues have been integrated into the new narrative contexts. First, one finds textual fragments or paraphrases of prayers or blessings known to us from Jewish liturgy (like the Qeddushah, Qaddish, etc.). Often these fragments differ in their wording from the texts known to us from other rabbinic texts or from Jewish liturgy fixed in later, medieval sources. Second, in other passages the text only mentions specific liturgical elements rather technically, without their wording. This pertains especially to the names of prayers or blessings (e.g., Amidah/Birkat-ha-mazon, etc.) that occur within different textual contexts. Third, some passages contain discussions or narration related to praying and liturgy focusing on theological or ethical The problematic character of the early siddurim as textual witnesses and their complicated transmission history is extensively treated in Reif, Judaism and Hebrew Prayer, 122–206. Efrat Stampfer, Ha-tefillot be-Seder Eliyahu we-zikato shel ha-midrash le-siddur ha-tefillah (The Prayers in Seder Eliyahu and the Relationship of this Midrash to the Prayer Order), M.A. Thesis, Hebrew University in Jerusalem, 1982, lists and analyzes briefly most of the liturgical elements to be found in SER, SEZ and PSEZ. Without further explanation, he follows Friedmann and other earlier scholars in suggesting a rather early date (third century C.E.) for the work. Based on this very precarious theory, Stampfer suggests that many of the prayer elements in Seder Eliyahu were unique and later on absorbed into the common liturgy. Taking into account the pitfalls of this approach discussed above, Stampfer’s hypothesis is not very compelling. I am indebted to Prof. Stefan C. Reif for drawing my attention to this work and to Ruben J. Wengiel for helping me to obtain the thesis. 9

PRAYER AND LITURGY IN LATE MIDRASHIC TRADITIONS 101 topics. In these accounts praying is described or discussed in a more general way. In some cases, certain ritual moves and gestures (e.g., standing, bowing down, hiding the face, etc.) or other aspects of prayers and praying (e.g., clothing, spatial dimensions, and cultural contexts) are mentioned and specified. These three types never occur in their pure form as such. In fact, most occurrences in SE contain several of the aforementioned elements in close proximity to each other, but also with a particular focus on a specific liturgical element or dimension. Most passages about blessings and prayers build a strong link between the liturgical sphere and the ethical agenda of the text. Moreover, the possible functions of such passages in an inclusive discourse of instruction shall be discussed. This might help to understand the role of midrashic traditions in the formative period of rabbinic culture and Jewish liturgy.


A trenchant application of a well-known benediction of wellknown Jewish public liturgy can be found in a narrative of encounter in SEZ 1: 10 Once I was traveling from place to place, a man 11 accosted me and greeted me. But he did not know me. 12 He asked: “Rabbi, from what place are you?” And I replied: “I am from great Jabneh, from the city of Sages and Rabbis.” He said: “Rabbi, come and dwell in the place I will show you, and I will give

MS Parma 2785 and MS Oxford Mich 910 introduce this firstperson narrative with an attribution: ‘Elijah, of blessed memory, said…’ (‫)אליהו ז ''ל אמר‬. 11 Most often the manuscripts have “a man” (‫)אדם אחד‬. However, MS Vatican 31 reads “a quaestor.” Braude/Kapstein, Tanna de-be Eliyyahu, 360 translate this word as “magistrate.” The Hebrew term ‫ כשדור‬occurs in this spelling only once in rabbinic literature. 12 ‫פעם אחת הייתי עובר ממקום למקום ומצאני כשדור אחד ונתן‬ ‫ ולא היה מכיריני‬,‫לי שלום‬ 10


LENNART LEHMHAUS you wheat, barley, beans, lentils and all kind of pulse.” 13 I said to him: “My son, if you were to give me a thousand thousands of thousands of gold denar, I would not leave the Torah and dwell in a place where there is no Torah.” 14 He said: “Rabbi, Why?” I answered him: “My son, the world was destroyed only because of negligence of Torah. The Land of Israel was destroyed only because of negligence of Torah. And all troubles that befall Israel [come only from negligence of Torah]. 15 Great and grievous is [the transgression of] negligence of Torah before the Holy One, blessed be He, because it is equal to all transgressions in the world. As is said: For the transgression of Jacob is all this, [and for the sins of the house of Israel ...] (Mic 1:5). And this only [refers to] Torah. As is said: Who is the wise man that may understand this? [And who is he to whom the mouth of the LORD has spoken, that he may declare it, for what the land perishes and is burned up like a wilderness, that none passes through?] (Jer 9:11) and [Scripture] says: And the LORD says, because they have forsaken My Torah [which I set before them, and have not obeyed My voice, neither walked therein.] (Jer 9:12).” The man then said to me: “Rabbi, blessed be God who chose you out of the seventy languages and gave you the Torah, for you trust Him in every place.” 16 (Seder Eliyahu Zuta, Chapter 1)

In this account the blessing concludes a dialogue between a firstperson narrator and an unlearned man from a rural milieu. While the latter offers to him full material support, if he settles down in the countryside and teaches Torah, the narrator rejects this 13

‫ ואני נותן לך חטים ושעורים‬,‫ בא ושב במקום שאני מראה אותך‬,‫רבי‬ ‫ופולים ועדשים וכל מיני קטניות‬ 14 ‫ ודר‬,‫אם אתה נותן לי אלף אלפי אלפים דינרי זהב איני מניח את התורה‬ ‫אני במקום שאין בו תורה‬ 15 ‫ ולא חרבה ארץ ישראל אלא‬,‫לא חרב עולם אלא מפני פשעה של תורה‬ .‫ וכל צרות הבאות על ישראל‬,‫מפני פשעה של תורה‬ 16 ‫ שאתם‬,‫ ברוך ה' שבחר בכם משבעים לשונות ונתן לכם את התורה‬,‫רבי‬ ‫בוטחים בו בכל מקום‬ This benediction from the mouth of the man does not occur in MS Parma 2785, but it is found in MS Oxford Mich 910.

PRAYER AND LITURGY IN LATE MIDRASHIC TRADITIONS 103 generous offer. He argues that the ignorance toward Torah ( ‫פשעה‬ ‫ )של תורה‬in such a place brings afflictions over Israel. To this statement the opponent reacts with a blessing: He said to me: “Rabbi, blessed be Ha-Shem, who has chosen you from among the seventy nations [lit.: languages] (‫שבחר‬ ‫ )בכם משבעים לשונות‬and has given to you the Torah (‫ונתן‬ ‫)לכם את התורה‬, for you will trust Him everywhere. (SEZ 1, p. 168)

These words of praise resemble clearly the third part of the Torahblessing (birkat ha-Torah). This series of blessings is recited during the morning liturgy, before the public reading from the Torah, and especially during study. The whole blessing contains three benedictions related to Torah-study. The first thanks God for the gift and the obligation of studying, while the second asks for fruitful learning and many students among Israel. 17 The third benediction reads as follows: Blessed are You, Ha-Shem, our God, King of the world, who has chosen us from among all nations (‫אשר בחר בנו מכל‬ ‫ )העמים‬and has given us His Torah (‫)ונתן לנו את תורתו‬. 18

In the first instance, the utterance appears to be simpler in its wording than the known liturgical text. The blessing of the man lacks the standardized liturgical introductory formula praising God by referring to his eternal kingship over the whole creation (barukh atah adonai elohenu, melekh ha-olam). The man uses also the simpler construction she-baḥar (‫ )שבחר‬instead of the more hymnic and biblicizing asher (‫)אשר‬. Furthermore, we can discern some slight changes in the text. The man substitutes the expression “from among all nations” (‫ )מכל העמים‬with the term “from among the seventy languages” (‫)משבעים לשונות‬. This switch can be explained 19F

Single benedictions which later became parts of the regular blessing can be found in b. Berakhot 11b. They are described as mandatory before studying the Written or Oral Torah. Cf. “Birkat haTorah,” in Encyclopedia Judaica 3 (2nd ed.), 712. 18 This is my own translation based on Siddur Rinat Yisrael (Jerusalem: Moreshet, 1984), 2–3. 17



by the very common rabbinic motif of the “seventy languages.” This compound means actually “seventy nations,” and is often used as a metonymy for all the other gentile people in the world. The replacement of the prevalent liturgical expression (me-kol haamim) with a popular midrashic equivalent highlights the contrast between Israel and the nations, without changing the basic statement. 19 Both aspects might point to a more down-to-earth approach and a possible lesser degree of education in or familiarity with (rabbinic) liturgical issues on the side of the interlocutor. However, it seems more likely that these changes reflect a more common, orally transmitted blessing-formula deviating in some minor details from the later standardized wording of Jewish liturgy. Certainly, and more importantly, one can discern two major differences between both versions. First, the paraphrase of the birkat-ha-Torah shifts from the collective “We,” so common in liturgical contexts, to the second person plural “You,” which expresses a certain (religious, intellectual, or socio-cultural) distance between the person uttering the blessing and the narrator who is conceived as rabbinic, or, at least, as learned. Second, the blessing in SEZ is augmented by the statement: “for, you will trust Him in every place.” At first glance, this blessing appears like the moral of the story. The other has learned the lesson about the protective power of Torah given by the rabbinic teacher. However, the blessing, especially when read together with the self-distancing “You,” entails quite an ironic expression. From the perspective of the opponent, the divine protection through Torah seems to be granted exclusively to the rabbi and his colleagues. So, the blessing turns into a lesson for the narrator himself. He strongly rebukes the ignorance of Torah among the unlearned and promotes the study of Torah as a ubiquitous guarantee for divine protection. But, then, why does he refuse to create multiple “places of Torah (learning)” (makom Torah) precisely in those localities where this is sorely needed? The ironic moment is even amplified through its rendering as a paraphrase of the Torah-blessing. The literary form itself 886.


See also Daniel Sperber, “The Seventy Nations,” in EJ 12, 882–

PRAYER AND LITURGY IN LATE MIDRASHIC TRADITIONS 105 indicates already some basic liturgical and ritualistic knowledge on the part of the unlearned dialogue partner, at least as he is imagined by the authors.


Another dialogue-narrative in SEZ 2 serves as the framework of a detailed discussion of liturgical elements. After a first dispute and exchange with one “who knows written Torah, but doesn’t know oral Torah (she yesh bo Torah we-ein bo Mishnah),” the narrator examines his opponent’s post-Biblical liturgical practice. Then I said to him: My son, if I will find you in the Mishnah (Lore) of the Sages, your words were to become a lie! […] I asked him: When you are going down before the Ark (‫ )כשאתה יורד לפני התבה‬on Sabbath, how many blessings do you recite (‫?)כמה אתה מתפלל‬ He said: Seven. I Asked him: And on the rest of the days? [He replied]: The entire Prayer (‫)תפילה כולה‬. 20 [I said:] How many men read Torah (‫ )קורין תורה‬on the Sabbath ()? He said: Seven. […] [I asked him:] And how many blessings do you recite over the seven species of the Land of Israel ( ‫ועל שבעת‬ ‫?)המינים כמה אתה מברך‬ He said to me: Two. One blessing before and one blessing afterwards. [I asked him:] And over all other species? [He said:] One blessing. [I Asked him: How many blessings do you recite in] the Grace after Meals (‫?)וברכת המזון‬ [He replied:] Three. 21 [And with the blessing of] ‘He who is God and bestows good’ (‫)והטוב ומטיב‬ [the total is] four. (SEZ 2, p. 172) 201F

20 21

Edition Venice, 1598: 18 (‫)י''ח‬. MS Parma 2785 reads: two, read three (‫)שתים קרי שלש‬.



In this first section the narrator inquires about the blessings of the Amidah-prayer: seven on Shabbat 22 and eighteen on weekdays. The long and complex history of origin and reception of this particular prayer has been subject to many discussions. However, according to recent studies we can assume a rather fluid text until the geonic period that allowed for the differentiation into a Palestinian and Babylonian version. 23 The expression “to descend before the Ark” 24 used in the question could, thus, refer to leading the public prayer (as a sheliaḥ tzibur). Such an understanding would implicate that the opponent is not a totally unlearned, but rather someone who is able to lead a prayer congregation in the synagogue or in other (non-rabbinic?) contexts. However, the term “to descend before the Ark” could refer also to the recitation of the Amidah in the context of the public This would be in accordance with the common prayer for Shabbat and most of the holidays. This pattern is described in rabbinic tradition as invented already by the schools of Hillel and Shammai (t. Ber 3:13). This version contains also the framing benedictions. But the penitential prayers in the middle part are substituted by one passage, only that the holiness of the day is emphasized (‫)קדושת היום‬. 23 Rabbinic tradition knows four different legends about the origin of the Amidah. All of them point, maybe anachronistically, to processes of ordering and institutionalization in Tannaitic times. The Bavli (b. Berakhot 33a–b; see also Avot 1:1) introduces the men of the Great Synagogue as the authors of this specific prayer. In Sifre Deut. 33:2 and Midr. Psalms 17:4, the old and wise men are mentioned, while b. Megillah 17b refers to the 120 elders in the time of Ezra. Other sources describe R. Gamaliel (II.) and Shimon ha-Pakuli as well as Samuel, the younger, as authors and authorities who uttered teachings about the liturgy and (re)formulated certain benedictions. Cf. also m. Berakhot 4:3, b. Berakhot 28b–29a, b. Megillah 17b. For the long and complex development of the Amidah and its fixation in geonic times see Ruth Langer, “The ‘Amidah as Formative Rabbinic Prayer,” in Albert Gerhards, et al., eds., Identität durch Gebet (Paderborn: Schöningh, 2003), 127–156. 24 This expression is mostly used in reference to someone who leads the public prayer (‫)יורד לפני התיבה‬. Cf. b. Taʿanit 16b; b. Shabbat 24b; b. Rosh Ha-Shana 34b; Midr. Psalms 25:5. 22

PRAYER AND LITURGY IN LATE MIDRASHIC TRADITIONS 107 reading from the Torah on Shabbat. This second focus is emphasized by the two follow-up questions about the number of men reading from the scroll. Those questions are answered by the man according to the standard protocol known to us from rabbinic tradition. 25 Scholars have pointed to an interesting practice of substituting the reading from the Torah for the unlearned by prayer. Someone from the congregation took over the reading, while those called upon to read recited the seven benedictions of the Amidah for Shabbat. 26 So, this question might aim also at such a particular practice, if we keep in mind the purported non-rabbinic or unlearned background of the opponent. The following questions concentrate on the blessings recited before the consumption of the seven species of the Land of Israel (fruits and grains specified in Deut. 8:8) 27 and other types of food. The special status of the seven species qualified them for a heaveoffering (terumah) of the first fruits (bikkurim; see m. Bik 1:3) in the Temple. 28 This detail is important, since the narrator introduces According to m. Gittin 5:8 seven men are reading from the Torah on Shabbat; the first two are ideally a priest (Kohen) and then a Levite, while all the others can be normal members of the congregation. For parallels in the terminology of the public, congregational prayer and the reading from the Torah, see Jeffrey Hoffman, “The Ancient Torah Service in Light of the Realia of the Talmudic Era,” Conservative Judaism 42, 2 (1989/90), 41–48. 26 Cf. Louis Jacobs, “Reading of Torah,” in Encyclopedia Judaica 15, 1246–1255. 27 Wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and (honey) dates. These foods are consumed traditionally in celebration of those holidays connected to agriculture and the harvest season (like T"U b’Shevat, Sukkot and Shavuot). 28 This ritual was described for Second Temple times exhaustively in the Mishnah (cf. m. Bik 3:1–9). Deut 26:3–10 describes the ritual as probably twofold. Before the offerings are handed over to the priest, one recited the verse Deut 26:3. Afterwards, when the priest had received the offerings, there follows a recitation of Deut 26:5–10. In m. Bik 3:6 this sequence is supported only in the teaching of R. Yehuda. Alternatively, we could assume that, in the time after 70 C.E. and the temple destruction, 25



after these questions the subject of offerings (esp. Bikkurim) given to the sages, who, in return, provide spiritual protection and atone for Israel’s sins. Such practices are known from Tannaitic times onward. At first, tithing and offering served as a practice of selfdistinction of the rabbis and ḥaverim (“colleagues”) from other, ritually more lenient groups. Interestingly, the category of the “ignorant/unlearned regarding the commandments” (Am ha-aretz la-mitzvah/‫ )עם הארץ למצוה‬is defined explicitly by their leniency in ritual purity and a lack of accuracy in tithing, while they are described as observant with regard to other religious obligations. 29 Already towards the end of the Tannaitic period, there was an increased tendency to give offerings, originally intended for priests and Levites, as tributes to scholars regardless of their priestly heritage. Thus, popular piety developed this voluntary praxis of contributions to the sages, in order to emphasize their religious importance and their esteemed social status. 30 210F

two other blessings could be meant by this sequence. Before the separation and offering of the first fruits, the blessing over a commandment must be recited (birkat ha-mitzvah/‫)ברכת המצוה‬. Since the offering of the first fruits implies that the commandment is observed for the first time, the blessing of “who sustains us/keeps us alive” (‫)שהחיינו‬ has to be added. But this would be only obligatory for the first offering. Cf. Eliezer L. Segal, “Bikkurim,” in Encyclopedia Judaica 3, 697. 29 Cf. t. Avodah Zarah 3:10, b. Berakhot 47b, and b. Gittin 61a on their leniency; and t. Demai 5:2, and b. Nedarim 84b regarding their observance. Based on a rabbinically purported lack of reliability regarding their observance, the produce of the am ha-aretz were considered as doubtful (demai) and were discussed in a special halakhic category. See, for example, y. Sotah 9:12 (24b), b. Sotah 48a. Cf. Eliezer L. Segal, “Demai,” in Encyclopedia Judaica 5, 547–548. See also Aharon Oppenheimer, The `Am Ha-Aretz: A Study in the Social History of the Jewish People in the HellenisticRoman Period (Leiden: Brill, 1977), 67–79; and about the contrast between Am ha-aretz, Chaver and the rabbis, 161–199. 30 Cf. Sifre Num 121; b. Sanhedrin 90b; m. Bikkurim 3:12 and Oppenheimer, The ʿAm Ha-Aretz, 45–46.

PRAYER AND LITURGY IN LATE MIDRASHIC TRADITIONS 109 Also the last question relates to a blessing of crucial relevance for domestic rituals, the Grace after Meals (birkat ha-mazon) 31 with its additional fourth blessing 32 as it is discussed in the Bavli (b. Berakhot 48b): [I asked him:] “And in the Grace after Meals (‫[ )ברכת המזון‬how many blessing do you recite]?” [He replied:] “Three. And with [the blessing of] ‘who is good and does good’ [it makes] four. (SEZ 2, p. 172)

The importance of the Grace after Meals is supported by the exhaustive discussion of this particular blessing in the Mishnah (m. Ber. 3, 6–8). The Babylonian Talmud argues for a Biblical origin of these three benedictions (b. Ber. 48b). While all rabbinic traditions well into Talmudic times provide diverse discussion about the structure of the Grace after Meals, no fixed wording can be found. A more stable text is only available, albeit with many variant readings, in Genizah fragments. See Avi Shmidman, “Developments within the Statutory Text of the Birkat haMazon in Light of its Poetic Counterparts,” in Albert Gerhards and Clemens Leonhard, eds., Jewish and Christian Liturgy and Worship: New Insights into its History and Interaction (Leiden: Brill, 2007), 109–126. 32 The additional, fourth blessing combines an expression of gratitude because of God’s mercy with a plea for answering the specific or personal supplications. The Talmuds (b. Berakhot 48b–49b; y. Berakhot 1:5, 3c) state that this benediction was introduced in Yavneh, because of the miraculous sparing of corpses at Betar during the Bar-Kohba rebellion. However, one finds this blessing already in passages (m. Berakhot 1:9, t. Berakhot 1:9) which can be dated before the historical events in Betar, whereas the Apocrypha indicate a threefold structure of the Grace after Meals. One cannot exclude the possibility that the smooth combination of three blessings and a fourth additional benediction in some MSS of SEZ is an interpolation by a later scribe who harmonized the text with the liturgy known to him. The very brief account in MS Oxf Mich 910 refers only to three blessing and mentions the fourth benediction separately. Ms Parma 2785 even mentions only two blessings, amended then by a scribal commentary (“read three”/‫ )קרי שלש‬in accordance with general custom. The fourth blessing is mentioned separately. 31



The central ideas of the blessings elaborate upon God as sustaining His creation, as maintaining a special relationship to Israel, and as being merciful and protective towards Israel. In summary, one finds neither any deviant or sectarian practices, nor any substantial lack of knowledge rendering the other man an “am ha-aretz la-mitzvot.” In fact, all of his answers fit perfectly into the frame of what is known to us since later geonic and medieval time as rabbinic mainstream. Thus, the purpose of this interrogation has to be different. I would like to suggest a twofold didactic golden thread running through this whole passage. First, the narrator presents here those core elements of public and domestic liturgy that define the author’s minimum standard of Jewish education and practice. On a meta-level the dialogue form not only presents, but also conveys its liturgical “canon” to the readers themselves. Second, all mentioned elements emphasize formative theological messages about divine commitment, indulgence, and mercifulness that are linked to SEZ’s overarching discourse. These findings match the overall literary and discursive character of SEZ. I have discussed elsewhere the program of a “minimal Judaism” favored by the authors and elaborated in the dialogue-narratives of SEZ. These passages convey essential ideas (basic knowledge of Scripture, the most important prayers and benedictions as well as moral behavior and piety) that form a core Jewish identity. This provided most likely an appealing and accessible alternative to the life of a full-blown rabbinic scholar for Jews from different educational and social backgrounds. Furthermore, in a self-reflexive sense, the text attests to a growing interest in and interaction with broader society and a new (self) understanding of the role of the sages. 33

For a comprehensive discussion, see Lennart Lehmhaus, “'Were Not Understanding and Knowledge Given to You from Heaven?’” Minimal Judaism and the Unlearned ‘Other’ in Seder Eliyahu Zuta,” Jewish Studies Quarterly 19, 3 (2012), 230–258. 33



The most innovative feature throughout SE is the close tie between liturgical and narrative elements. Thus, in SE one does not only find a straightforward illustration of liturgical halakhah or issues pertaining to liturgy through aggadic episodes. In fact, the text entails whole clusters in which textual fragments or paraphrases of important prayers and benedictions, pertinent verses from Scripture, descriptions of liturgical customs and narration about Biblical characters are inextricably blended. One rather brief example can be found within a chain of teachings and narratives in SEZ 9. This chapter is part of a larger section or cluster that I would like to call the “instruction of the obstinate prophets.” This prophetic cluster entails shorter and longer narrations about Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Hosea that follow more or less the same plot. The prophets react with fury and contempt to the blasphemy and the separation of Israel from their God. They wallow in self-pity because of their being a lone voice in the wilderness, accuse Israel fiercely and call for divine punishment. However, God, due to His entirely compassionate nature and His special relationship to Israel, does not answer their expectations. By contrast, He tries to teach them a lesson about human fallibility and divine mercy that should serve as a model for social interaction. In this context we find a brief narrative that illustrates the connection between prayer and God’s mercy by the example of the wicked king Manasseh: During the reign of Manasseh, the son of Hezekiah king of Judah, he (Manasseh) went and made an image with four faces and set it up in the Holy Place, his purpose being to make it impossible for anyone to pray therein to the Holy One. [….] When Manasseh’s punishment befell him, at once he prayed for mercy, as it is said: And when he prayed to him, the Lord was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea; so he brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that he the Lord is God. (2 Chron 33:13) About Manasseh, of those like him and of those who resemble him, and of those who perform deeds like his, what does Scripture say? You have wearied the Lord with your words. “How have we wearied him?” you ask. By saying, “All who do evil are good in the eyes of the Lord, and he is pleased with them” or


LENNART LEHMHAUS “Where is the God of justice? (Mal. 2:17). (Seder Eliyahu Zuta, Chapter 9, p. 193)

This brief account, which is more elaborated in some other aggadic traditions, brings in a narrative mirror-image in order to highlight its message. The text begins with Manasseh putting up an idol in the Temple in order to prevent Israel from praying and giving offerings. 34 Then, the wicked king is punished by God through the army of Assur that defeats him and he is taken captive into exile. Now, Manasseh, who worshiped idols and kept Israel away from their God, resorts to praying to the God of his fathers. 35 Only through his spontaneous repentance expressed in a penitential or supplicatory prayer is he rescued from his fate in the hand of his enemies. This episode illustrates the penitential power of prayer and God’s mercy for the penitent sinner, even for an evildoer like Manasseh. 36 As we will see, the theme of the power of prayer for Cf. 2 Chron 33:7; b. Sanhedrin 103b, SER (31) 29, p. 161. Pesiq. Rab Kah. 24:11 provides another detail that renders Manasseh’s plea to God as his very last resort, since his prayers to all his other idols failed. Manasseh’s repentance and supplication does not appear to be whole hearted. Therefore, the angels perceive his prayer as another blasphemous act. They close all windows of the heavens in order to prevent his supplications from being heard by God. However, God wants to receive Manasseh’s plea directly like that of any other penitent in Israel. He breaks a hole under His throne of glory and creates a direct link between him and the wicked king. Cf. also the parallels in y. Sanhedrin 10:2 (28c), Deuteronomy Rabbah 2:20, Ruth Rabbah 5:14, and b. Sanhedrin 103a. Peter Schäfer identifies this tradition as Amoraic and points to the coherent transmission history throughout rabbinic literature. See Peter Schäfer, Rivalität zwischen Engeln und Menschen (Berlin: Walter De Gruyter 1975), 216ff. 36 Neither Biblical or apocryphal, nor rabbinic traditions provide the actual wording of Manasseh’s prayer, which is also lacking in SEZ. However, among the Apocrypha we find a brief text that is known as the “Prayer of Manasseh.” The central message of this prayer appears to be quite similar to the discourse of SEZ on the power of (penitential) prayer. The apocryphal tradition contains an all-embracing confession of sins combined with a plea for God’s endless mercy and compassion—one of 34 35

PRAYER AND LITURGY IN LATE MIDRASHIC TRADITIONS 113 those without merit and repentance in or through praying plays a substantial role in SEZ and is elaborated in the most complex cluster on praying in the whole work. 37 The chapters SEZ 4 and 6 construct an exhaustive re-telling of the Biblical Sinai-episode about the revelation of the Torah. In this context the authors deployed in chapter 4 two benedictions and in chapter 6 two aggadic discussions about praying for their discursive purposes. The discourse is complex and the whole narrative highlights in its different sections the idea of divine indulgence and compassion. In the narrative this central and, certainly for the authors, most important aspect of God’s nature is taught to and illustrated by the figure of Moses. Thus, the authors of SEZ strategically utilized the Sinai-episode for imparting key concepts and values to the audience. The intended recipients, even lesser educated, might have been well acquainted with this central Biblical narrative and tended to identify themselves with the main dramatic personae, Moses and Israel. The key topic of the whole cluster, and of SEZ as a whole, is addressed and introduced at the very beginning of the chapter by providing an ethical maxim that is based on God’s forbearance in his dealing with Israel despite their sinful behavior: the core messages of SEZ. Moreover, also the perpetual praise of God in reaction to the accepted repentance figures prominently in the apocryphal text as well as in the narrative about Manasseh (SEZ 9/ 2 Chron 33:10– 16), in Moses’s prayer of thanks after the epiphany (SEZ 6), and in many other passages on blessings and praise in SEZ. 37 Interestingly, Pesiq. Rab Kah. 27:3 combines Manasseh’s prayer with the Biblical prooftext from Psalm 102:18, called the “Prayer of the Wretched” (‫תפלת עני‬/Tefillat-Oni) who is identified as Manasseh in his predicament. This prooftext, as we will see below, is a key element of the discourse on the prayer of those without any merit in SEZ 6. Further parallels can be drawn also regarding the terminology used in Pesiq. Rab Kah. and SEZ. Only repentance (‫)תשובה‬, which is illustrated as a model behavior in the prophetic cluster in SEZ 8 and 9, enables the king to return (‫ )וישיבהו‬to his kingdom in Jerusalem. Cf. also SER 3 (p. 15) saying that the wicked are rewarded for their prayers already in this world. See also SER 2 (p.7) about King David’s repentance in prayer.


LENNART LEHMHAUS The sages taught: Be forbearing (‫ )עלוב‬toward every man, and more so, in particular, toward the members of your household than toward all others. You should know that it is like that. Go out and learn it from the example of the Holy One who was forbearing (‫ )עניו‬toward His people not only on one occasion but on two and even three occasions. He did not act toward them as they acted toward Him, nor did he punish them according to their iniquities, but simply showed forbearance (‫)עניו‬. Whence [do we learn this]? You should know that it is like that from [what happened during] the 120 days from the day the perfect Torah was given to Israel until the Day of Atonement (Yom ha-kippurim). Were it not for God’s forbearance (‫ )ענוה‬towards Israel during the first 40 days that Moses went up on Mount Sinai to bring Torah to his people, the Torah would not have been given to Israel. (SEZ 4, p. 178)

After this introduction we find a parable (mashal) that serves to illustrate the forbearing attitude of God towards Israel at Mount Sinai by referring to a king’s utter love of his (future) wife. The emissary (Moses), who is sent back and forth between them, gets to know almost all of the king’s magnificent palace (Sinai-revelation), while the king requires at his wife’s place only a humble chamber (the Tent of Meeting). However, during the preparations for the union of bride and groom messengers bring witness about the bride committing adultery (the Golden Calf): By what parable may the matter be illustrated? By the parable of a mortal king who married a woman he loved with utter love. He sent for someone to act as his emissary (‫)שליח‬ between him and his future queen/ bride. He showed the emissary all his nuptial chambers, his halls of state, and his private living rooms. The king then said to him: Go and say on my behalf to the lady: “I do not require anything from you. You need make for me only a small nuptial chamber where I can come and dwell with you, so that my servants and the members of my household will know that I love you with complete love.” Yet, even while the king was concerned with the measurements of the nuptial chamber and while he was ordering a messenger to bring many, many gifts to the lady, people came and told him: “Your future wife has committed adultery with another man.” At once the king put aside all

PRAYER AND LITURGY IN LATE MIDRASHIC TRADITIONS 115 plans he had in hand. The emissary was expelled and withdrew confounded from the king’s presence, as is said: While the king was at his table, my [spike]nard spread/gave forth its fragrance (Song 1:12).

While the parable is neat and understandable regarding its message and the points of reference, namely God’s “betrothal” to Israel through the covenant in Exodus, the final verse from Song 1:12 leaves the readers somehow puzzled. It remains totally unclear, if this verse refers to the King/God, to Moses/the messenger, or to the whole situation after the king was informed about the “adultery” of his future-bride. However, then right after this parable a first cluster of blessings appears suddenly: Blessed be (‫)ברוך‬, who spoke and the world came into being (‫)שאמר והיה העולם‬, blessed be He (‫)ברוך הוא‬. Blessed be He, who says and acts [accordingly] (‫אומר‬ ‫)ועושה‬. Blessed be He, who rules and carries out [his decrees?] (‫)גוזר ומקיים‬. Blessed be the performer of creation (‫)עושה בראשית‬. Blessed be He, who remembered the first/earlier [good deeds of Israel] and overlooks the later [bad deeds] (‫)שזכר את הראשונות והעביר את האחרונות‬. (SEZ 4, S. 179)

The five benedictions in SEZ match the post-Biblical standard pattern for benedictions. The introductory formula of praise (Blessed be/‫ )ברוך‬is followed by an attributive clause determining the subject and content for the specific blessing. 38 The first four 219F

An exemption from the standard pattern is found in the introductory part of these blessings, which is even shorter in SEZ. Instead of the full-scale “Blessed are you, Lord, …” (‫)ברוך אתה יי‬, with its significant dialogic appeal in the second person, the opening is limited to a simple “Blessed be He, [who …]” (‫—)ברוך‬without any direct appellation, further divine attributes (e.g. our God, King of the world/‫ )אלהינו מלך העולם‬or the Tetragrammaton. According to Rav and Rabbi Yoḥanan, a blessing without mentioning God and His kingdom is not considered a valid blessing. Cf. b. Berakhot 40b. For the development of the Berakhah38



benedictions have a prominent parallel in the liturgy of the morning-prayer (shaḥarit). They constitute the sequence of blessings (barukh she-amar) 39 that introduces the verses of praise (‫פסוקי‬ ‫ )דזמרא‬and the Shema Yisrael in the liturgy. 40 This section of the 21F

formula since Biblical times see Joseph Heinemann, Prayer in the Talmud. Forms and Patterns (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1977), esp. 77–103. For the attribute of divine kingship (the so-called “sovereignty formula”) see ibid. 93f and b. Berakhot 12a; y. Berakhot 9:1, 13b. Also the specification of the subject of the blessing is rather brief in SEZ. While the first blessing has the typical relative particle (‫ אשר‬and-‫ש‬ respectively), the following benediction provides only a present participle (who says and acts), typical for Rabbinic Hebrew. The briefness of the benedictions resembles also the closing formula of a blessing (ḥatimah), although they lack the characteristic appellation-form (you). Cf. Peter Schäfer, “Benediktionen, I. Judentum,” in TRE 5 (NY/ Berlin: de Gruyter, 1980), 560–62. 39 This title is based on the opening words of the first benediction. The common wording includes 87 words. In the Middle Ages, Elazar ben Yehudah from Worms ascribed to them a hidden mystical meaning, based on Hekhalot traditions and connected to the divine name. Cf. Heinemann, Prayer, 267, who suggests an origin of these blessings in the house of learning (bet midrash). Each singular benediction can be found separately also in other contexts. The formula “who spoke and the world came into being” is used as a praise of God and thanks for erudition in Torah (Lev. Rab. 3:7) or utilized as a reaction to merciful and righteous deeds (Leqaḥ Tov on Gen 18:19). The second and third benediction (Blessed be He, who says and acts [accordingly]. Blessed be He, who rules and carries out [his decrees?]) can be found in a series of blessings and curses against evil (cf. b. Berakhot 57b; y. Berakhot 9, 1 (12d); Halakhot Gedolot I, Berakhot 9, p. 88). Praise of the creator and His creation (“Blessed be the performer of creation”) appears in some passages in rabbinic literature as a benediction spoken when someone notices particular natural phenomena. Cf. m. Berakhot 9:2; t. Berakhot 6:6; b. Berakhot 59a–b; y. Berakhot 9 (13c–d). 40 Cf. Shlomo Tal, ed., Siddur Rinat Yisrael, 4th Revised edition (Jerusalem: Moreshet, 1984), 32. These hymnic tunes are composed of psalms and some other Biblical verses which are recited in different sets depending on the time and the rite of the congregation. Cf. Heinemann,

PRAYER AND LITURGY IN LATE MIDRASHIC TRADITIONS 117 liturgy was understood as a meditative attunement to the following prayers (cf. m. Berakhot 5:1). Through the mantra-like repetition of benedictions and the psalms of the Pesuqei de-Zimra the congregation induced the right mood for addressing God directly in prayer. While the Talmud mentions them briefly, elaborated discussions about the recitation and meaning of the Pesuqei de-Zimra as a fixed part of liturgy can be found only in geonic writings like Teshuvot Rav Natronai Gaon and Seder Rav Amram Gaon. 41 Thus, SEZ Prayer, 163–164. On the meditative character see also b. Berakhot 32a (R. Simlai expounded: A man should always first recount the praise of the Holy One, blessed be He, and then pray. Whence do we know this? From Moses; for it is written: And I besought the Lord at that time [Deut 3:23]), and b. Berakhot 34a. 41 The mention of verses of praise in the Bavli (b. Shabbat 118b) seems not to refer to those particular elements that later on became fixed elements in the liturgy. The Talmudrather discusses a daily praise which was probably sung as a substitute for the Hallel of the Temple liturgy. Further arguments or descriptions regarding the Pesuqei de-Zimra can be found only in geonic texts confirming that from this time on one can speak of permanent liturgical features. Cf. Teshuvot Rav Natronai Gaon (ed. Brody), Oraḥ Ḥayim, 11–12; Seder Rav Amram Gaon, seder sheni ve-ḥamishi. The actual function of framing for those blessings is only attested in the Sefer ha-ittim of Judah ben Barzilai (sect. 170) in the 11th century. Seder Rav Amram Gaon, Pesuqei de-Zimra, describes the recitation of the praise by the Ḥazan at the beginning of the prayer in the synagogue. A similar, albeit shorter, reference occurs already in the work of Moses Gaon (c. 820). See Leopold Zunz, Die gottesdienstlichen Vorträge der Juden historisch entwickelt: Ein Beitrag zur Alterthumskunde und biblischen Kritik, zur Literatur- und Religionsgeschichte. 2nd Edition, Nach dem Handexemplar des Verfassers berichtigte / und mit einem Register vermehrte Auflage. Hrsg. von N. Brüll. Frankfurt am Main: J. Kauffmann, 1892.” (Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2003), 376. However, the text mentioned there, differs considerably from the later common version of those blessings. Thus, we may presume still in the geonic period a longer formative process with variations in form and content which may have induced the differentiation into regional prayercustoms (minhagim), which in turn influenced later differentiations according to different practices. Herman Kieval, “Pesukei de-zimra,” in



provides the only reference to the Barukh she-amar sequence and its wording throughout Talmudic and Midrashic literature. Those blessings create a dense discourse about human existence in the presence of God who creates and rules, but, first and foremost, sustains the world and cares for His creation. 42 Regarding this message, thus, we can observe striking similarities to the image of God the just, caring and merciful father promoted time and again throughout Seder Eliyahu, as will be demonstrated in the following. The fifth blessing has no parallel in the common liturgy. However, it is striking that the fifth benediction displays a close proximity in content to the verses of the Barukh she-amar sequence that are not featured here in SEZ. In these benedictions, as well as in the fifth invented blessing, God is portrayed as preserving His creation through His mercy and as rewarding the righteous ones. 43 Encyclopedia Judaica 13, 336 mentions also the hymnic character of these “songs” (zimrot) that were recited during the official appointment ceremony for the Exilarch in 10th century Babylonia (Nathan ha-Bavli). 42 The introductory blessing marks through the divine attribute in a final/ perfect form (‫ )שאמר והיה העולם‬the historical act of creation as the beginning of God’s relation with humankind. The following blessings use present participles thereby stressing God’s permanent deeds that last even in the actual presence of the speaker and his audience. They describe, first, God’s faithfulness and reliability (who says and acts [accordingly]). This statement emphasizes also the twofold character of creation and revelation. While those existed at first in form of the divine text or word, they later attain practical relevance after creation through God’s active interaction with his creatures. The third blessing stresses aspects of divine control and justice (who rules and carries out [His decrees?]), with importance for the present age as well as for eschatological times. The final sentence summarizes God’s eternal presence and His sustaining power for the whole creation (Blessed be the performer of creation). 43 Cf. the blessings of the Barukh she-amar that emphasize God’s indulgence and mercifulness (‫)מרחם על הבריות‬, rewarding those with fear of Heaven (‫)משלם שכר טוב ליראיו‬, and saving and delivering his creatures (‫)פודה ומציל‬. Cf. Siddur Rinat Yisrael, 32. In Seder Rav Amram Gaon (middle of 9th c. C.E.) God is praised, since before Him exists no evil, no deed is forgotten and no partiality takes place. Related to this see SEZ 3, p. 175

PRAYER AND LITURGY IN LATE MIDRASHIC TRADITIONS 119 Thus, the blessing sequence can be perfectly understood as an important bridging element between the preceding parable about Israel betraying God in the Sinai-episode and its interpretation. For, the parable provides a prooftext or nimshal quoting the verse from Song of Songs 1:12 (my [spike]nard spread/gave forth its fragrance). The following interpretation connects this verse to God’s indulgence based on the memory of Israel’s initial good intentions to accept the Torah and God’s sovereignty. So, despite Israel’s sin with the Golden Calf He remains well-disposed toward His people. Had He not remembered the former and had not overlooked the latter (‫שאילו לא זכר את הראשונות והעביר את‬ ‫)האחרונות‬. Scripture would have said: “my spikenard gave forth its stench” (‫)נרדי נתן סריו‬. However, because Israel accepted the Holy One’s sovereignty when they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will obey/ (Exod. 24:7)”, therefore it is said “my [spike]nard spread/gave forth its fragrance (Song 1:12)” and not my [spike]nard spread/ gave forth its stench. (SEZ 4, p. 179)

The exegesis in SEZ seems to be directly, and deliberately, opposed to other rabbinic explanations of this verse from Song 1:12. These readings emphasize the diminution of the spikenard’s fragrance through Israel’s sin at Mount Sinai, which brought forth rather its “stench.” However, in striking contrast to this common rabbinic exposition, SEZ purposely gives priority to God’s indulgence and Israel’s good intentions. 44 Interestingly, the merciful attributes of (‫ )מידת עוול‬and SEZ 12, p. 193 (‫ )אין לפניו משוא פנים‬where the same topics are discussed. The similarities in content between the Barukh sheamar and SEZ might point to variants in wording of the same blessing which only later on got fixed. However, the strong link to the verse from Songs 1:12 indicates rather an exegetical or narrative elaboration of a known body of blessings in SEZ. 44 The common exegetical traditions can be found for example in Songs Rabbah 1:12, b. Shabbat 88b, and b. Gittin 36b. God’s remembering of the first deeds can also be understood slightly differently in the context of the whole discourse of SEZ. On the one hand, He could also remember the positive beginnings of creation that human action



God emphasized in the fifth benediction appear like a summary of the other blessings of the Barukh-she-amar sequence not mentioned here. Those blessings contain the following attributes: who shows compassion toward the earth and His creatures, who gives good reward to those who fear Him, who rescues and redeems. 45 This explanation following the blessings makes use of the keyterm “to have passed [out from His mind]” (‫)את להעביר‬, which is used as the epithet of God in the last blessing. Based on this, one can describe the function of the blessing within this passage. The series of blessings is used as a bridging device essential for the understanding of the mashal with its cryptic Biblical prooftext and exegesis. The reference to the Pesuqei de-Zimra anchors the fifth “exegetical” and invented blessing in Jewish liturgy while serving the text’s own purposes. Furthermore, this expression (le-ha-‘avir) is an intertextual link/allusion to Moses’ epiphany in Ex 33:19 (I will make all my goodness pass before you /le-ha-avir et tovati) and Ex 34:6 (And He passed in front of/ above Moses /va-ya‘avor H’ ‘al-panav). This last passage from Exodus is known in Jewish tradition as the description of God’s Thirteen Attributes (of Mercy/shalosh-esreh middot ha-raḥamim). In fact, SEZ 6 binds these two verses even closer together by presenting the thirteen attributes as the specification of God’s goodness, which He makes passing before Moses (in Ex. 33:19): And He went on: “I will cause all My goodness to pass in front of you, [and I will proclaim My name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion] (Ex. 33:19). “My goodness”—as specified by its thirteen attributes: [And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming,] “The Lord, the Lord,

brought to naught as discussed in SEZ, chapters 3 and 10. On the other hand, this blessing could also refer to the concept of the merit of the fathers (Zekhut Avot), which plays an important role in rabbinic thought about the alleviation or avoidance of punishment. 45 The Hebrew text goes as follows: Barukh meraḥem al ha-aretz, barukh meraḥem al ha-briyot, barukh meshalem sekhar tov le-yirav, [....], barukh podeh u-mazil, barukh shemo.

PRAYER AND LITURGY IN LATE MIDRASHIC TRADITIONS 121 the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. [Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation].” (Ex. 34:6-7). […] (SEZ 6, p. 183)

Thus, divine compassion or raḥamim, as the core-theme of the whole chapter (SEZ 6), are merged here with statements about the virtue of prayer that are skillfully woven into the Sinai-aggadah. This is even apparent in the passage that directly precedes the disclosure of the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy. Moses—likened to the role of the father in-law of the bride, Israel—requests from God further insights into the plan of creation. After having received this, Moses even dares to ask for a complete revelation of God’s (compassionate) nature and an explanation for the world’s injustice (tzaddiq ve-ra lo). However, at this point God reminds Moses of his human limitations. Instead of a full epiphany, God only agrees to describe indirectly how “the world is directed.” He explains to Moses that His loving kindness toward those who don’t have any merits is ultimately grounded in their praying, which reminds God of the inextricable bond between Him and His people: 46 [Like the father-in-law of the king in the mashal] Moses asked: “Now therefore, if I have found favor in Your sight, please show me now Your ways (hod‘ani na et-darkekha/‫)הודעני נא את דרכך‬, that I may know You [in order to find favor in Your sight. Consider too that this nation is Your people]” (Exodus 33:13). Thereupon, the Holy One showed him each generation-to-come with their sages, with their prophets, with their interpreters of Scripture, with the

The verb ‫ זקק‬in the Nifʿal, in combination with the possessive pronoun ‫להן‬, describes often a life-long relation or bond, especially between a man and his wife. Marcus Jastrow, A Dictionary of the Targumim, Talmud Bavli, Talmud Yerushalmi and Midrashic Literature (New York: Putnam, 1903), 410. Such a metaphor of marriage is often used throughout rabbinic text to describe the relationship between God and Israel. Langer, “The ʿAmidah,” 145 suggests that the first three framing benedictions of the Amidah serve to elaborate upon the special bond between God and Israel. 46


LENNART LEHMHAUS leaders of their communities, with their righteous, who cause miracles to occur. Through such men, God promised Moses that His plan for this world and for the world-to-come would be made clear to Israel. Thereupon, Moses spoke up to God saying: “Master of the universe, You have shown me Your plan of the world. Now show me the plan whereby the world is directed. Lo, I see the righteous man who enjoys prosperity and the righteous man who is afflicted with adversity […].” The Holy One replied: “Moses, you cannot stand [or fathom] My ways/measures (‫)לעמוד על מידותיי‬. But I will show you some of My ways/measures (‫)קצת ממידותיי‬. For example, I see men who are without merit—neither from their own deeds, nor from the deeds of their fathers. Still, because they rise up/stand (‫ )עומדין‬to bless (‫)ומברכין‬, beseech (‫)ומתחננין‬, and supplicate Me with prayers (‫)ומרבים תפילה לפני‬, I respond to them and double the provision I intended for them ( ‫אני‬ ‫)נזקק להן וכופל להן מזונותיהן‬, as is said: ‘He will respond to the prayer of the destitute ; He will not despise their prayer

(panah el-tefilat ha-‘ar‘ar ve-lo bazah et tefilatam/ ‫פנה אל‬ ‫( )תפלת הערער ולא בזה את תפלתם‬Ps. 102:18).’” (SEZ 6, 182–


Although no direct liturgical context is mentioned, the description refers to and accumulates key terminology and core elements of Jewish liturgy. The people are standing in or rising for prayer (‫)עומדין‬. This position was most favored by the rabbis and lends the name to the central rabbinic prayer of the Amidah (lit. “standing”). Standing imitates probably the position of the angels in their praise, it is an expression of reverence for the Divine, and it symbolizes the uprightness of the person praying. 47 28F

To stand in/for prayer is based on b. Berakhot 28b: “Rabbi Eliezer said: ‘When you are praying, be aware before whom you are standing. Then you will merit the life in the world-to-come.’” One cannot say with certainty if the authors of SEZ intended a direct reference to the Amidah in this passage. However, the terminology (‫ )ע'מ'ד‬and the mentioning of the central prayer (ha-tefillah = Amidah) make it quite possible. On the close connection between a standing position and praying see m. Berakhot 3:5 and 5:1, t. Berakhot 3:20; b. Berakhot 10b 47

PRAYER AND LITURGY IN LATE MIDRASHIC TRADITIONS 123 Moreover, the text makes explicit reference to benedictions (Berakhot/‫)ברכות‬, penitential prayers, or prayer of supplication (the verb mitḥanenin seems to allude to Taḥanun/‫)תחנון‬, 48 and the main prayer (Tefilah/‫תפילה‬, usually referring to the Amidah, but also to the Shema Yisrael). Especially the emphasis on penitential prayer and the reference to Taḥanun is striking. The Taḥanunim are a central transitional prayer to be said after the Amidah and before Qaddish. 49 230F

and 31b. A comprehensive study into rabbinic forms of praying and the innovative aspect of the Amidah-prayer is provided by Uri Ehrlich, The Nonverbal Language of Prayer: A New Approach to Jewish Liturgy (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2004), esp. 9–29, 199–218, and 247–254. Cf. also Reuven Kimelman, “Rabbinic Prayer in Late Antiquity,” in Steven T. Katz, ed., The Cambridge History of Judaism, Vol. IV (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 573–611, esp. 591–596. 48 One has to admit that the terminus technicus (taḥanunim/ ‫ )תחנונים‬is not given in the text. However, the use of its cognate verb le-hitḥanen (‫ )להתחנן‬in the context of the prayer of the distressed can be understood as a strong hint in this direction. On the meaning of the root, see Georg Fohrer, Hebräisches und aramäisches Wörterbuch zum Alten Testament (Berlin: De Gruyer, 1989, repr.), 87 and 299; Jastrow, Dictionary, 484 and 1662. The noun Taḥanunim, always as part of a formula (to pour out mercy and to ask for compassion/‫)לשפוך רחמים ולבקש תחנונים‬, occurs in four passages in SER, which are instructive for our present discussion. SER (6) 7 (p. 33) depicts Moses as the ideal prophet who engages in penitential prayer. This type of prayer is also in other rabbinic traditions closely connected to the figure of Moses and the Sinai-narrative (cf. b. Shabbat 30a; Deut. Rabbah 2:4; b. Sanhedrin 44a; Lev. Rabbah 11,6). SEZ (8) 9, p. 46 demonstrates the penitential power of Hezekiah’s prayer and links it to other commandments regarding prayer. SER (14) 15, p. 70 imagines a labor division in Israel. The sages dedicate their lives to the study of Torah, while all others thank God through praise and penitential prayers. Finally, SER (14) 15, p. 71 holds that Taḥanunim and other penitential prayers are the only way to win God’s love for the time of enduring exile. 49 The prayers were often accompanied by prostration so that they have a second name “nefilat appayim” (lit. ‘falling on the nose’/ ‫נפילת‬ ‫)אפיים‬. While these penitential prayers are recited usually morning and afternoon subsequent to the Amidah, they are omitted on Shabbat and during the festivals. On Mondays and Thursdays the prayers are expanded



Their central concerns are confession (vidui), repentance, and appeals to God’s mercy. These ideas are expressed through explicit reference to the Thirteen Attributes from Exodus 34:6-7 and other Biblical verses, in which the key terms “raḥum” and “ḥanun” figure prominently. 50 The thematic unity of this section is reinforced by the quoted Biblical prooftext from Psalm 102:18—the introduction of which as a “prayer for the poor/afflicted” (tefilat le-oni) and content stress the close link between human prayer and divine compassion. with longer passages about individual sin or failure and with pleas for God’s mercy (the first commences with the thirteen Attributes of Mercy/‫)והוא רחום‬. Also the other elements of the Taḥanunim (like 2. Sam 24:14, Ps 6) accumulate key-words like mercy, deliverance or forgiveness that are central to SEZ’s discourse. The Talmud (b. Berakhot 16b–17a) following Biblical models (Dan 9:3,1 Kings 8:54) encouraged the addition of personal supplications following the main prayers (like the Amidah). Those supplications should be spontaneous and whole hearted. They should also contain elements of confession like the vidui (‫ )וידוי‬on Yom Kippur or a reference to the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy (like in Selichot). Cf. t. Berakhot 3:6, m. Berakhot 4:4, Avot 2:13, b. Berakhot 29b, Soferim 21:1. See also Lawrence A. Hoffman, “Tachanun and Penitential Piety,” in L. A. Hoffman, ed., My People`s Prayer Book, Vol. 6: Tachanun and Concluding Prayers (Woodstock, Vermont: Jewish Lights Publishing, 2002), 7–18. Similar to many other liturgical elements, the text and position of the Taḥanunim in the liturgy were rather flexible. More fixed texts and advice about those prayers can only be found in geonic works and Genizahfragments. On the history of this genre see Ruth Langer, “ ‘We Do Not Even Know What To Do!’: A Foray into the Early History of Tahanun,” in Mark J. Boda, ed., Seeking the Favor of God, Vol. 3: The Impact of Penitential Prayer Beyond Second Temple Judaism (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2008), 39–70. 50 Cf. Richard S. Sarason, “The Persistence and Trajectories of Penitential Prayer in Rabbinic Judaism,” in Seeking the Favor of God, Vol. 3, 1–38. Sarason provides a thorough survey about the development of those penitential prayers that were originally embedded in very specific contexts (days of fasting/ private supplications). In the course of history they got dispersed and became fixed elements of many other passages in the liturgy for weekdays and festivals.

PRAYER AND LITURGY IN LATE MIDRASHIC TRADITIONS 125 Moreover, the authority of the whole passage is consolidated and amplified through it being introduced as divine speech in the first person. Towards the end of the chapter (SEZ 6) the close affiliation of divine mercy with prayer is stressed in the depiction of Moses’ reaction on his partial epiphany. After having received the knowledge about God’s nature to be one of complete love and compassion for His people, Moses “stands (up) in prayer” (‫עומד‬ ‫)בתפילה‬, cloaks himself and supplicates God with a prayer: When Moses saw God’s way to be one of loving-kindness and of compassion, he enfolded/wrapped himself and stood up in prayer (‫ )נתעטף ועמד בתפילה‬before the Holy One, as is said: [Moses bowed to the ground at once and worshiped ( ‫וימהר‬ ‫ )משה ויקד ארצה וישתחו‬. “Lord,” he said,] “if I have found favor in Your eyes, then let the Lord go with us. [Although this is a stiff-necked people, forgive our wickedness and our sin, and take us as Your inheritance]” (Ex. 34:8-9). (SEZ 6, p. 183)

This depiction illustrates two aspects of prayer. First, Moses’ wrapping himself into his cloak and his praying seem to be expressions of awe and reverence. The gesture of covering oneself for prayer (‫ )נתעטף‬might be seen here as Moses protecting himself facing God’s measures or nature, which he is not able to withstand as a human being. God has warned Moses in this regard: “you cannot stand my dimensions/ character (‫)מידותיי‬.” On a second level, Moses’ behavior exemplifies the common ritual of covering (with a prayer-shawl) for prayer, prescribed in later prayer custom manuals, that is important in Jewish liturgy, especially for the Amidah prayer. 51 23F

For the importance of gestures, ritual covering, and other features of prayer see the first comprehensive study by Ehrlich, The Nonverbal Language of Prayer. Rabbinic traditions about the custom of covering oneself in prayer can be found in t. Meg 3:30; ARNa 6; Pesiq. Rab Kah. 8:4. Of special importance for the passage from SEZ 6 is the Bavli sugya on the Thirteen Attributes in b. Rosh Ha-shanah 17b. In this particular narrative about the epiphany God covers Moses in his prayer-shawl like a 51



Second, the prayer can be interpreted as an expression of gratitude in reaction to the transformative experience of closeness to God in the epiphany granted to Moses. This emphasizes the bidirectional nature of prayer: as God has spoken face-to-face ( ‫פנים‬ ‫ )אל פנים‬with a human being, Moses answers Him directly through his prayer. Thus, prayer figures as a key element of the reciprocal relationship between God and humankind. Triggered by the Biblical narrative as well as by the aggadic context in SEZ 4 the text equates Moses’ prayer with Exodus 34:9. The two attributes mentioned (ḥesed/mercy and raḥamim/compassion) as the summary of the received revelation clearly allude to the Thirteen Attributes from Exodus 34. In SEZ Moses is depicted as reacting at first over-zealously and relentlessly toward Israel`s sin with the Golden Calf. Now, however, he has learned in his epiphany about God’s endless mercy and indulgence. To put it in terms of the mashal, how could he, Moses, as the messenger, be so zealous and punitive towards the wife, when the king himself shows compassion and grace? Moses, and with him Israel as a whole, can only “stand the divine dimensions/attributes” (‫)לעמוד על מידותיי‬, incomprehensible to the human mind, if he “stands in prayer” (‫ )ועמד בתפילה‬before God and calls upon His very nature of compassion.


In the middle of the aggadah regarding Sinai in SEZ 4, discussed above, we find another link between Moses’ zealous attitude, God’s mercy and Israel’s repentance that alludes to a well-known blessing. This episode follows right after the explanatory elaboration on the parable with the help of the barukh she-amar elements and especially their fifth additional and invented blessing. After the sin with the Golden Calf, Moses pitches the tent outside the camp to meet with God face-to-face (Ex 33:11). This period of separation of Israel from their leader and prophet, and through the tent-of-meeting also from God, can be described as sheliaḥ tzibbur in order to protect him from the force of the direct sight during the revelation.

PRAYER AND LITURGY IN LATE MIDRASHIC TRADITIONS 127 traumatic for them. Thus, Israel, realizing their failure, demonstrate their repentance by imposing a period of serious mourning on themselves. Thereby God is reconciled and reconciles with Moses so that a second revelation can take place. The text features here a long divine name: King of kings of all kings (‫)מלך מלכי המלכים‬, the Holy One, blessed be He (‫)הקדוש ברוך הוא‬, His great name shall be blessed/praised forever and ever and ever. ( ‫יהי שמו הגדול‬ ‫)מבורך לעולם ולעולמי עולמים‬. (SEZ 4, S. 180)

The threefold sovereignty formula and the standard epithet “the Holy One blessed be He” 52 are followed here by a hymnic benediction. 53 The Hebrew blessing 54at the end can be found in The threefold sovereignty formula (“the King of kings of all kings”) can be found 227 times in rabbinic literature. Most of these passages come from aggadic Midrash (189). One finds two references in Avot (Avot 3:1; 4:22) and in the Tosefta; the formula appears ten times in the two Talmudim (Bavli: 8/Yerushalmi: 2); eighteen passages can be found in the minor tractates as well as six mentions in halakhic Midrash. While SER features the expression in six places, SEZ only refers to it in this particular passage. The double reference in SEZ using the sovereignty formula and the standard divine epithet (alternatively the epithet is abridged into: blessed be He—‫ )ברוך הוא‬can be found also in SER 17, p. 83; BM, Tosefta Targum Ez. 53 In contrast to the standard Berakhah-formula (barukh attah adonai) this blessing uses a third-person perspective in order to speak about God. This might indicate a stronger rhetoric-literary than liturgical character inherent to this blessing. Cf. Heinemann, Prayer, 104–113. 54 The first half of the sentence (may His great name be blessed / ‫יהי שמו‬ ‫)הגדול מבורך‬, which constitutes the core-formula of the Qaddish, occurs in its Hebrew and Aramaic variants in halakhic-liturgical as well as in narrative contexts. Friedmann, Mavo, p. 79f. argues that the prevalence of the Hebrew formula in SER and SEZ attests for an ancient Hebrew origin of the Qaddish. This theory seems rather unlikely since we also find more than fourteen Aramaic versions of this blessing in other texts. The Babylonian Talmud (b. Ber 21b) discusses the interruption of prayer in regard to the response by the congregation; according to the Palestinian sages; this is valid only in regard to the communal benediction in our text 52



SEZ, SER, Seder Rav Amram Gaon and a few later texts. 55 This doxology serves in Seder Eliyahu Rabbah and some other traditions often as an addition to the divine name. 56 The Aramaic version (‫)יהא שמה רבא מברך לעלם ולעלמי עלמיא‬, however, is the central doxology of the Qaddish and entails important answering/ responsive elements of Jewish prayer. 57 The Qaddish is widely used 238F

and it pertains to all prayers and even to the engagement with ma‛ase merkavah. Cf. b. Suk 38b–39a; Tanḥuma bo 14, b. Ber 57a, b. Shab119b, Midr. Prov., Leqaḥ Tov and other smaller Midrashim. Cf. Andreas Lehnardt, Qaddish—Untersuchung zur Entstehung und Rezeption eines rabbinischen Gebets (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2002), 79–141. 55 The same wording (‫ )יהי שמו הגדול מבורך לעולם ולעולמי עולמים‬can be found in a parallel of SER 12 (p.56) in Yalqut, Judges 68 and in Pitron Torah, Parashat Kedashim, 71 as a praise of the laws of Kashrut. The whole praise beginning with ‫( יהא‬instead of ‫ )יהי‬is attested in SER 2, pp. 9f. and 11; SER 18, p. 89 (cf. also Yalqut, Torah 613); PSEZ 20, p. 33 and in ARNa 31 (praise of the wisdom of creation). In Midrash Prov 20:9 one finds the variant: ‫יהי שמו של הקב"ה מבורך לעלם ולעולמי עולמים‬. The Aramaic form of this blessing (‫)יהא שמיה רבא מברך לעלם ולעלמי עלמיא‬ can only be found in later texts from rabbinic literature. See BM, ToseftaTargum Ez; and OZHM, Qeddushah, p. 501, which seems to be adopted from Seder Rav Amram Gaon. The complete Aramaic benediction appears six times and the first half of it four times in Seder Rav Amran Gaon. 56 In SER we find sixteen examples for this complete Hebrew formula that functions as a supplement to the divine name in narrative (e.g. SER 2, p.11 as Nimshal) or rhetoric (e.g. SER 18, p. 89) contexts. Other passages in SER include SER 4 (p.18); 7 (p. 32–33); 8 (p. 39); 12 (p. 56); 17 (p. 83). This high concentration of the use of this blessing as a divine name in SER stands out in comparison to the total number of forty-six occurrences of this formula in all rabbinic traditions and seventeen instances in geonic works. A similar application of the doxology as a divine attribute can be found in ARNa, 31. 57 Sifre Deut § 306 (cf. Yalqut, Torah 942), where only the first part (‫ )יהי שמו הגדול מבורך‬is mentioned, describes this benediction within the context of a halakhic-liturgical discussion as twofold. The praise (“His great name shall be blessed”) is answered by the formula (“forever and ever and ever”). In general, Deut. 32:3 (I will proclaim the name of the LORD. Oh, praise the greatness of our God! He is the Rock, His works are perfect, and all

PRAYER AND LITURGY IN LATE MIDRASHIC TRADITIONS 129 throughout public and private liturgy either as a bridging element connecting different liturgical passages or as a concluding element that closes a liturgical portion or a certain ritual, 58 as for example in the context of the house of study. 59 According to Andreas Lehnardt, the formation process of this doxology is clearly to be His ways are just) is seen as the basis for this blessing. Cf. also similar expressions in Ps 113:2, Dan 2:20, and m. Yoma 3:9. For a comprehensive study of this prayer and its responsive aspects see Lehnardt, Qaddish, esp. 81–86. 58 The Qaddish, which in one format later became known as the mourners’ prayer (the orphan’s Qaddish), serves during the liturgy also as bridging element (half-Qaddish). It is uttered as a liturgical interpolation by the cantor or the sheliaḥ tzibbur after the psalms of praise (‫)פסוקי דזימרא‬, discussed above, before the Shema Yisrael, in the context of the Amidah. It is also said after the reading of the Torah and in combination with other elements in other instances depending on the actual day and time. Furthermore the Qaddish can occur as a concluding element of different passages throughout the liturgy (e.g. after the Amidah), during religious study as closure of a lesson (siyum) and after performing a commandment (the so-called “mitzvah-principle”). See Soferim 10:6; Midrash Psalms 6:1. In sum, one can find six variants of this prayer with different wording and different liturgical functions or settings. Cf. Lehnardt, Qaddish, 16–43; 97– 103; 211–250. 59 The original importance of the Qaddish in the context of study, the beit midrash, and the aggadic lecture might explain the casual inclusion of this specific doxology in other, more narrative or exegetical contexts like in SEZ. According to the Talmud, the Qaddish was initially closely connected to the aggadic lecture (cf. b. Sotah 49a: ‫יהא שמיה רבא מברך‬ ‫)דאגדתא‬. See also Midr. Prov 10 and 14, Kohelet Rabbah 9:14 and PSEZ 20 (here the benediction is explicitly bound to the exposition, derashah, and portions of aggadah. Cf. Lehnardt, Qaddish, 97–103 and 118–133. The close link between the Qaddish and the Torah-reading, as well as the study of Pirqe Avot in the context of the synagogal liturgy is also mentioned in the geonic siddurim (Seder Rav Amram Gaon/Siddur Rav Sa‘adja Gaon). Moreover, the parallel to the formula from SEZ can be found also in the rather late variant of the “Qaddish of/for the sages” (‫ )קדיש דרבנן‬which was recited after collective study sessions and on other occasions. Cf. Lehnardt, Qaddish, 39–42.



dated in post-Talmudic times 60 and the Hebrew version in our text is one of the earliest witnesses for its wording. 61 The narrative context of Moses’ separation from his people after their sinful and blasphemous actions that prompts Israel to return in repentance and express their collective mourning (‫והיו‬ ‫ )ישראל נוהגין אבילות‬seems, at first glance, a suitable ground for a prayer that is strongly connected to Jewish rituals and liturgy of bereavement and mourning. Still, while the use of the Qaddish after the funeral is attested in geonic sources, most scholars argue today that the Orphan’s-Qaddish was only later adopted as a mourners’ prayer in medieval times. 62 A more fruitful venue for explaining the utilization of this doxology formula in chapter 4 might be found in various explanations of its religious importance in other rabbinic sources. Many passages relate the doxology to the virtue of expiation through the praise of God—a core topic of SEZ. The one who 243F

The extra-Talmudic tractate Soferim 10:6 mentions the Qaddish as a mandatory prayer for the first time. In geonic times it had become already one of the core texts of (rabbinic) Jewish liturgy. In Seder Rav Amram Gaon the Qaddish forms an important element in the framework of the Tzidduk ha-Din. Seder Rav Amram Gaon provides halakhic-liturgical advice, as well as aggadic material on the Qaddish. Regarding the liturgical context of the Qaddish see the discussion of Soferim 21:5, Teshuvot Rav Natronai Gaon, Siddur R. Sa‘adya Gaon, and Seder Rav Amram Gaon in Lehnardt, Qaddish, 211–250. 61 For the dating of the relevant SE tradition it is important that this doxology, except for the early mentioning in Sifre Deut, can only be found in traditions whose origin and redaction took place in post-Talmudic or even later periods. Complete parallels for the formula used in SEZ are attested in Pitron Torah (ca. 9th c., Babylonia) and in Yalqut Shimʿoni (13th c.) Also other parallels from the larger (ARNa 31/Midr. Prov./Koh. Rab.) and smaller Midrashim support these findings. Cf. Günter Stemberger, Einleitung in Talmud und Midrasch (9th edition, Munich: C.H. Beck, 2011), 389–394. Moreover, Lehnardt, Qaddish, 141f and 297–305, argues time and again for a post-Talmudic formation and reception history regarding the doxology and the Qaddish. 62 Cf. Lehnardt, Qaddish, 235–250; and 277–296. 60

PRAYER AND LITURGY IN LATE MIDRASHIC TRADITIONS 131 recites this blessing is granted the world-to-come (b. Berakhot 57a) 63 or the gates of Gan Eden are opened to him (b. Shabbat 119b); 64 God abstains from revenge and punishment (SER 18, p. 89); and He reverses His own decrees (Koh. Rab. 9:14).18 The topic of expiation through benedictions and praise figures prominently in SER in which half of all accounts support this idea, while other passages connect praise rather with bringing about God’s presence or securing divine care and love for Israel. 65 B. Berakhot 57a: If one [in a dream] answers, ‘May His great name be blessed’, he may be assured that he has a share in the future world. If one dreams that he is reciting the Shema’, he is worthy that the Divine presence should rest upon him, only his generation is not deserving enough. If one dreams he is putting on tefillin, he may look forward to greatness, for it says: And all the peoples of the earth shall see that the name of the Lord is called upon Thee, and they shall fear Thee. And it has been taught: R. Eliezer the Great says: This refers to the tefillin of the head. If one dreams he is praying, it is a good sign, for him, provided he does not complete the prayer. 64 B. Shabbat 119b: “R. Joshua b. Levi said: He who responds, ‘Amen, May His great Name be blessed,’ with all His might, His decreed sentence is torn up, as it is said, When retribution was annulled in Israel, For that the people offered themselves willingly, Bless Ye the Lord (Judg. 5:2). […] Resh Laqish said: He who responds ‘Amen’ with all his might, has the gates of Paradise opened for him, as it is written: Open you the gates, that the righteous nation which keeps truth [shomer emunim] may enter in (Isa. 26:2). Read not ‘shomer emunim’ but ‘she’omrim amen’ (that say ‘amen’). What does ‘amen’ mean? — Said R. Ḥanina: God, faithful King.” This last exegesis of the verse from Isaiah is one key element of the plot in PSEZ 20 where God invites the sinners who answer with “Amen” from Gehenna into Gan Eden. 65 Other midrashic accounts depict the praise of God as affirming God’s glory. Therefore, God values His human creatures as the greatest treasure in the world (Midr. Prov 14), and regrets the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem (b. Berakhot 3a). ARNa 31 connects the praise to God creating human beings and the world (micro- and macro-cosmos) in analogy and harmony. The minor Midrashim (Konen/ Elle ezkara) combine the motif of expiation with heavenly ascent or evocation of angels, similar 63



This “echo room” of rabbinic tradition may suggest how this liturgical interpolation in our text rhetorically works. As already mentioned the blessing suddenly appears in middle of deep crisis after Israel’s sin, the loss of the first Torah, and the separation of Moses. But it is followed by the act of divine indulgence when an “opening of compassion” and forgiveness comes into play. Read in this way, it would be Israel’s repentance expressed through mourning and the praise that paves the way for God and Moses to forgiveness. So, this blessing is no disjointed/incoherent parenthesis made by an author, redactor, or copyist. In fact, by way of interpolation a central liturgical element is put into the mouth of Biblical Israel in this narrative. Based on the other rabbinic traditions on the penitential power of the Qaddish, the text creates here a corollary of sin, condemnation and a second revelation.


The close readings of those passages from SE reveal a rich tableau of liturgical text fragments and references to specific prayers and benedictions (Amidah, Birkat-ha mazon, Birkat ha-Torah, Qeddushah, Qaddish, Barukh she-amar, etc.). Furthermore, SE contains several discourses on liturgical topics, especially on the penitential virtue of praying, in various contexts. Several scholars—such as Langer and Sarason, just to name a few— have shown in their studies that for most of the elements used in SE the Geonic Period was the formative period in which they slowly became more fixed and standardized (regarding their wording and position). Another indicator supporting such a dating of SE, as well as its penchant for Biblical material, is its extensive reference to precisely those geonic prayers that consist of a mosaic of Biblical verses (leqqet pesuqim). 66 So, with some precaution one

to Merkavah-mysticism or Hekhalot traditions. On the last point see the rather critical discussion in Lehnardt, Qaddish, 104–118 and 143–150. 66 Those particular prayers used in SE (like Selichot/Taḥanun/Pesuqei de-Zimra), are based on a compilation of different Biblical quotes. This striking feature stands in contrast to the central elements of “rabbinic” liturgy (e.g. Amidah/Qaddish) which make only partial reference to Biblical verses or are even in Aramaic. The other type of prayers (leqqet pesuqim)

PRAYER AND LITURGY IN LATE MIDRASHIC TRADITIONS 133 can study those fragments in SE—some of them providing the only rabbinic source for the wording of a certain blessing or prayer—as important witnesses for the development and transformation from Talmudic to geonic liturgy. However, as Stefan Reif has reminded us time and again, in light of the complex and unknown transmission history of most rabbinic texts and the siddurim it is hardly possible to establish any straightforward dependency or genealogy for these elements. I suggest that it is more fruitful to analyze these different applications of liturgical elements with regard to two distinct dimensions or functions, which, in practice intermingle, of course. First, these aspects exhibit a strong rhetorical-didactic function. And second, a rhetorical-poetological dimension can be discerned from the unusual usage of prayers and blessings in a midrashic setting. The didactic function becomes apparent through the integration of liturgical elements in non-liturgical contexts. In doing so the text directly or indirectly refers to and defines many of the core elements of Jewish (rabbinically based) liturgy. This may also point to a mnemotechnical function of these references. In our three samples we find the variants of the Amidah prayer for weekdays, Shabbat and festivals, the reading of the Torah, and important benedictions of the domestic liturgy (Birkat ha-mazon; Birkat shiv‛at ha-minim). Also the other liturgical fragments used in SEZ (4/6/12) are connected to the framing elements of the daily liturgy (Barukh she-amar/Pesuqei de-Zimra/Qeddushah/Qaddish/ Taḥanun). It is conceivable that these references, scattered throughout the text, were intended as “milestones” and aidesmemoire for those prayers and benedictions that the authors considered to be the most important. These essentials should be resembles in many points the slowly developing, distinct Karaite liturgy. However, according to recent studies, those prayers seem to have been established as part of Jewish liturgy already in the geonic period. Cf. Ruth Langer, “Biblical Texts in Jewish Prayers: Their History and Function,” in Albert Gerhards and Clemens Leonhard, eds., Jewish and Christian Liturgy and Worship: New Insights into its History and Interaction (Leiden: Brill, 2007), 63–90; Langer, We Do Not Even Know, 51–54.



known and mastered by any Jew in order to be able to participate in everyday liturgy and rituals—in the domestic as well as in the public sphere. We have only very sparse information about the context of these passages. So, it is hard to decide whether this interspersed liturgical florilegium was aimed at learned scholars and students or rather at the less educated, common people. However, taking into account the general nature of Seder Eliyahu’s discourse of instruction and inclusion of non-rabbinic “others” the last option seems quite compelling. 67 Regarding the rhetorical-poetological dimension we can see that in SEZ all these elements are neither part of an explicit, liturgical framework (like in the siddurim or the Geonic responsa) nor are they integrated into a halakhic discussion on liturgy (like in Mishnah and Talmud). In fact, the passages demonstrate clearly how those liturgical elements function as a connecting (or bridging) element in various narrative contexts. As we have seen, the references to prayers and blessings are sophisticatedly intertwined with all important genres in SE. The Torah-blessing, as well as the liturgical interrogation, are important elements of the first person stories and instructive dialogues (SEZ 1/2). Other prayer fragments and liturgical features are neatly interwoven with aggadic elaborations of Biblical episodes (like the Sinai-narrative in SEZ 4 and 6), parables/meshalim (in SEZ 4 and 6), or theological key questions (like the double nature of mankind in SEZ 12). This flexible appropriation as literary devices in different contexts enables them to serve various discursive purposes. The incorporation of this specific paraphrase of the Torah-blessing comes as a critical and ironic reflection on the exclusiveness of Torah study. The liturgical interrogation in SEZ 2 relates to issues For the mnemotechnical dimensions in Midrash see William W. Hallo, “Midrash as Mnemonic. A New Approach to Rabbinic Exegesis,” HUCA 74 (2003), 157–173. Pesiq. Rab Kah. 9:5 mentions the Shema as typical prayer. The recitation of this standard prayer is watered down extremely in this passage, the purpose being that it could be said in every context. Pesiq. Rab Kah. 24:12 knows a minimal version of the Shema as a silent recitation of Psalm 4:5 “in the heart,” if other forms of praying are impossible (in the synagogue/in the field/at home/in bed). 67

PRAYER AND LITURGY IN LATE MIDRASHIC TRADITIONS 135 of differing educational backgrounds (e.g. rabbis vs. am ha-aretz) of the two characters. Furthermore it takes up the question of local or social varieties of liturgical custom (non-rabbinic, eventually protoKaraite). During these discussions the authors of SEZ define a minimal “canon” of their own liturgical standards (Amidah/Torahreading/birkat ha-mazon). 68 Most liturgical passages make recourse to the central theme of SEZ’s discourse—God’s mercy and indulgence. Parts of the common, public liturgy, most likely familiar to most parts of the audience, function here as a narrative and exegetical bridging device. 69 They illustrate and elaborate upon questions of penitence and repentance in connection with the idea of God’s endless love and mercy. 70 The benedictions in SEZ 4 (Barukh she-amar/Qaddish-

Moreover, within this context the rabbinic re-interpretation of tithes and offering of the first fruits (bikkurim/terumot/maʿaserot) as material support for students and scholars is accomplished (through a neat connection to the narrative about the prophet Elisha in the local sanctuary). The discussion of the Trishagion (Qeddushah) and the questions of the angels in SEZ 12 emphasize the importance of human prayer. This is closely related to a key topic of SEZ’s moral agenda—namely human freedom of choice. God appreciates human prayer more than being worshipped by angels, since humans have to overcome their double nature of good and evil inclinations in order to praise God, while the angels are created as servants by their very nature. 69 This is the most innovative and characteristic aspect of the application of prayers and benedictions in SEZ. This process appears more evident and important than a vague but not verifiable “influence” of those fragments on the later wording in the siddurim as suggested by Stampfer, The Prayers in Seder Eliyahu, 40. 70 The fifth benediction is similar to the subsequent benedictions of the Barukh she-amar, liturgy, which follow the initial benedictions in SEZ. The lenient attitude of God in SEZ, which corresponds to the elaboration of His behavior as the guarantor of His creation, since He is compassionate (‫)מרחם על הבריות‬, awards those that fear God (‫משלם שכר‬ ‫ )טוב ליראיו‬and He saves and redeems His (‫)פודה ומציל‬. Cf. Siddur Rinat Yisrael, 32. In Seder Rav Amram Gaon (middle of the 9th century) God is praised that there is no evil, no oblivion, no partiality, and no corruptibility; cf. SEZ 3, p. 175 (‫ )מידת עוול‬und SEZ 12, p. 193 (‫אין לפניו‬ 68



doxology), interwoven into the Sinai-aggadah, accompany and comment on Israel’s process of confession, repentance and forgiveness. The Sinai-narrative, thus, provides a lively example of the close connection between divine grace and human actions, particularly repentance and prayer. The idea of God’s indulgence and mercifulness is even more evident when the work deals with the power of prayer for those without merit (SEZ 6), or with the penitential prayer of the wicked Manasseh, as shown above. 71 The mnemotechnical and didactic dimension is even amplified through the integration of liturgical elements and discussions in other contexts. Prayers and blessings are not only mentioned, but their theological functions, especially their penitential virtue, are persuasively explained and illustrated when they are incorporated into the narrative portions of the texts. ‫)משוא פנים‬. The close parallelism of this text which contains different wording could be based upon the existence of different versions of this liturgical passage that were only later standardized. Nevertheless, the close connection to the exegesis in Song of Songs 1:12 may indicate an exegetical or narrative variant of SEZ. 71 The penitential power of prayer is stressed in a passage about the eschatological era and the final judgment in PSEZ 20. Here, the liturgical antiphony between the doxology of the Qaddish and the responsive utterance (“Amen”) is illustrated in a narrative. The story depicts the eschatological banquet of the righteous of Israel (the patriarchs, prophets and kings) who are invited by God to Gan Eden. After all finished their meal God studies, like on Shabbat, Halakhah, and Kind David recites from Aggada. All other righteous participants (‫ )הצדיקים‬recite the Qaddish doxology after the conclusion of their study-session. However, even the sinners/transgressors in Gehinnom/Gehenna respond to this benediction with the liturgical answer “Amen.” Their response causes God’s astonishment and He rejoices in their attitude despite their awkward situation. Therefore, He instructs the angels to bring them out of Gehenna into Gan Eden so that they can sing their praise in God’s presence. Cf. also the parallel version of this Aggada in BHM II, Alphabet de Rabbi-Aqiba, p. 367; BHM II, Pereq Mashiaḥ, p.75, and the same interpretation of the baseverse (Isa. 23:6) in b. Shabbat 119b. See also the discussion by Lehnardt, Qaddish, 133–140.

PRAYER AND LITURGY IN LATE MIDRASHIC TRADITIONS 137 So, the appropriation of liturgical elements provides significant support for SEZ’s main discourse on human and divine grace, compassion and indulgence. This supportive function for the text’s ethical discourse is also evident in SEZ’s “sibling” tradition Seder Eliyahu Rabbah (SER), while one finds slight but important differences. Due to limitations of space, I did not enter into an exhaustive comparison and rather confine myself to highlighting some of the characteristics of prayer application in SER. Also in this work one finds numerous examples of adaptation and utilization of blessings and prayers in narrative contexts. We can differentiate between three major types of occurrences of these elements in SER. Typical for all these occurrences is the steadiness of their first part. Almost in all cases the blessing opens with a benediction formula (“Blessed be the Preserver of the world. Blessed be He who…”) followed by a pertinent attributive sentence. Sometimes the blessings appear rather suddenly. As if they were not connected at all, they figure as an interpolation within the narration or discussion. Some of these occurrences seem to serve as a kind of proem introducing or summarizing the ideas of the following passage in one blessing. For example, in SER (12) 13 (p. 59) a new section starts as follows: “Blessed be the Preserver of the world. Blessed be He who rewards those who love Him and fear Him.” Subsequent to this blessing the text offers a discussion of divine rewards granted to the patriarchs and Israel for their good deeds. 72

In the course of this discussion, however, we find another blessing that is inserted without any visible connection before the example of God offering manna in various flavors for each and everyone’s specific taste: “Blessed be the Preserver of the world; blessed be He in whose presence no man is favored over another” (SER 13, p. 60). In other instances a longer blessing functions as a bridging device, as do other small forms throughout Seder Eliyahu. Other occurences mentioning God’s impartiality (no one is favored), can be found in SER (13) 14, p. 67 (for whom impartiality is the rule in His judgment of men); SER (15) 16, p. 73, or SER (15) 16, p. 76 (in whose presence all are judged impartially). 72



In other passages the blessing concludes a discussion or provides a linkage to the following section. 73 In other accounts they are presented as uttered by one of the dramatic personae, either in the first-person narratives or dialogues or as the utterances of rabbinic or other characters in aggadic stories. One typical example can be found at the very end of SER, chapter (14) 15 (p. 72). One of the two students that approach the first person narrator with their questions concludes the dialogue with the following words: “Blessed be He whose presence is everywhere. Blessed be He who chose the sages and their disciples to teach us the Mishnah…” Not only the wording, but also the felt distance between “the sages” and those to whom “they teach the Mishnah/Oral Lore,” resemble the use of a paraphrase of the Torah-blessing in SEZ 1. In both cases the dialogue partner distinguishes himself from the learned rabbinic character by referring to “them” in contrast to “us.” Also blessings often figure as part of the divine name or as an epithet. This happens more often than in SEZ where the Qaddishdoxology functions only once as a divine name. However, in SER one can observe an almost excessive usage of this particular blessing as a divine epithet that sometimes even substitutes any other divine name. The particular phenomenon of the integration and application of liturgical elements and discussions in a mainly narrative or non-halakhic context is, hence, a central feature—not In SER 2 (p. 8) a long blessing connects between man overcoming the evil impulse and a teaching of King David about God’s mercy. The passage starts as follows: “Blessed be the Preserver of the world; blessed be He in whose presence no man is favored more than another; from whose presence clear shining and light come to the world; from whose presence rains come to the world and tender grass comes to the world. The reward of the righteous who wear themselves out in study of Torah is that Scripture regards them as if they would bring clear shining and light into the world…” Also in SER 3, p. 14 (“who has chosen the sages and their disciples until the end of all generation”) the blessing links advice to study with a description of the merits and rewards for the diligent student. 73

PRAYER AND LITURGY IN LATE MIDRASHIC TRADITIONS 139 of SEZ and SER alone, but also of many other Jewish texts from the same period. In Pirqe de-Rabbi Eliezer one notices numerous examples for different strategies of integrating and appropriating liturgical elements within the body of the text. Rachel Adelman has pointed to some etiological narratives in Pirqe R. El. that were likely to explain the origin, reason and religious value or reward of certain rituals or liturgical elements (The chair of Elijah during the brit milah/the Havdalah). 74 Moreover, her study has shown how Pirqe R. El., in striking similarity and close proximity to Seder Eliyahu, uses blessings or prayer fragments as rhetoric or literary devices. Thus, Pirqe R. El. intertwines several blessings from the Amidah-prayer with its narratives and exegetical passages. 75 Also in other later midrashic traditions and even in geonic works like the She’iltot we can discern the application of blessings and prayer-fragments in an unusual, non-halakhic or non-liturgical context. 76 The prevalence of such liturgical elements in midrashic and other traditions might be connected also to the close proximity See Adelman, Return of the Repressed, 151–167 (Havdalah); 185–208 (Brit Milah). 75 Cf. Pirqe R. El. 4 (‫ ;)ברוך כבוד ה' ממקומו‬Pirqe R. El. 17 ( ‫ברוך אתה‬ ‫ ;)ה' נותן שכר טוב לגומלי חסדים‬Pirqe R. El. 20 (Havdalah / ‫ברוך אתה ה' מלך‬ ‫ ;)העולם בורא מאורי האש‬Pirqe R. El. 27 (‫ ;)ברוך אתה ה' מגן אברהם‬Pirqe R. El. 35 (‫ ;)בא''י האל הקדוש‬Pirqe R. El. 40 (‫ ;)ברוך אתה ה' חונן הדעת‬Pirqe R. El. 43 (‫)ברוך אתה יי' הרוצה בתשובה‬. See Adelman, Return of the Repressed, 265–68. 76 Also in Midr. Psalms one finds several benedictions or blessings that became later on an inherent part of rabbinic prayers and liturgy (e.g. Barukh bone yerushalyim/magen avraham/meḥaye ha-metim/dayan ha-emet). The She’iltot feature a unique structure in which the core part of each particular discussion of a subject is introduced by the blessing: “Blessed be the Name of the Holy One, blessed be He, who has bestowed upon us Torah and commandments through Moses, our teacher, in order to teach His people, the House of Israel.” The close connection between ethics and prayers is also emphasized in the famous teaching from the She’iltot: “By benevolence man rises to a height where he meets God. Therefore do a good deed before you begin your prayers.” 74



between Piyyut and Midrash and the importance of public liturgy and the house of prayer as institutions that served as identitymarkers within a more diverse Jewish population living in the multi-ethnic and multi-confessional societies of the early Islamic world. Moreover, the increasing geonic interest in fixation of the liturgical texts and their transmission in prayer books available to many Jews for theoretical-halakhic discussion, as well as for practical purposes seem to tie in well with Seder Eliyahu Zuta’s agenda of a “minimal Judaism.” The authors of this work outlined their idea of a common, Mediterranean Jewishness in which, besides a basic acquaintance with written and oral traditions and moral values, familiarity with the core-features of liturgy and their most important theological messages figured prominently. In Geonic times, thus, one can observe many different processes of literary change and development in texts normally called “Midrash.” This holds true for new linguistic and “scientific” interest, a new emphasis on Hebrew, the almost exclusive use of Biblical characters and aggadah, as well as for new models of literary writing that were appropriated from cultural models in their surroundings. The sophisticated deployment of prayers, blessings and liturgical topics as rhetoric-didactic devices combined with new contexts attests to these cultural shifts. Those developments seem, thus, to be triggered by a broadening of cultural horizons, the crossing of boundaries and an increasing interest in and inclusion of non-rabbinic, common Jews. Naturally, further comparative studies have to be accomplished in order to grasp the whole scope and meaning of these transformations. However, the discussion presented in this chapter hopefully helped to sketch how the interplay with and the penitential potential of “prayers becoming narrative” also turns midrashic narratives into a kind of prayer.



KATHARINA KEIM JOHN RYLANDS RESEARCH INSTITUTE, UNIVERSITY OF MANCHESTER, UNITED KINGDOM Pirqe de-Rabbi Eliezer (Pirqe R. El.) is a distinctive Palestinian work of the early Geonic era. 2 Often classified as a late midrash, Pirqe R. 1A

version of this chapter was delivered as a paper in a session of the Midrash Section at the Society of Biblical Literature’s Annual Meeting, 2014 in San Diego, CA. I am grateful to the unit chairs, Rivka Ulmer and W. David Nelson, and to the audience for their helpful and constructive feedback. This article comes out of research compiled for my doctoral thesis (“Pirqei deRabbi Eliezer: Structure, Coherence, Intertextuality, and Historical Context.” PhD diss., University of Manchester, 2014). The translations included in this article are my own, based on the Hebrew text of Dagmar Börner-Klein’s edition of Pirqe R. El. (Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer: Nach der Edition Venedig 1544 unter Berücksichtigung der Edition Warschau 1852 [Studia Judaica 26; Berlin; New York: de Gruyter, 2004]). It is from this edition that the Hebrew text in this article has been quoted. I have cited the text by the chapter number, followed by page and line number in the Hebrew text of Börner-Klein. Hence Pirqe R. El. 28,




El. engages in exposition of Scripture. The work shadows narratives and topics from Genesis and Exodus, beginning with the premundane creation and ending with the wanderings of the Israelites in the wilderness, and the giving of the Torah on Sinai, with occasional forays into passages from other parts of Tanakh deemed to relate thematically to the passage from Genesis or Exodus in hand. One important feature of the literary texture of Pirqe R. El. is that it uses a variety of small forms. 3 By “small form” I mean a small, standardized, self-limiting textual structure into which a variety of content can be “poured.” such as biblical lemma + comment units, prooftext units, speech reports, Question and

303/1–305/4 = Pirqei deRabbi Eliezer chapter 28, ed. Börner-Klein p. 303, line 1 to p. 305, line 4. In my translation I also take into account the translated text and notes of Gerald Friedlander (Pirḳê de Rabbi Eliezer (The Chapters of Rabbi Eliezer the Great). According to the Text of the Manuscript Belonging to Abraham Epstein of Vienna (1st ed., London, 1916; 2nd ed., New York: Hermon Press, 1965.) 2 Recent studies of Pirqe de-Rabbi Eliezer include the following: Dina Stein, Meimra, Magia, Mitos: Pirqe de-Rabbi Eliezer le-‘or ha-sifrut ha-‘amamit (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 2004); Ute Brohmeier, Exegetische Methodik in Pirke de-Rabbi Elieser, Kapitel 1–24 nach der Edition Venedig 1544, unter Berücksichtigung der Edition Warschau 1852 (Frankfurt a. M.: Peter Lang, 2008); Rachel Adelman, The Return of the Repressed: Pirqe de-Rabbi Eliezer and the Pseudepigrapha (Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism 140; Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2009); Steven Daniel Sacks, Midrash and Multiplicity: Pirke De-Rabbi Eliezer and the Renewal of Rabbinic Interpretive Culture (Studia Judaica 48; Berlin, New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2009). 3 For studies of the small form in and form analysis of works of rabbinic literature, see the following by Arnold Goldberg, “Form-Analysis of Midrashic Literature as a Method of Description,” in Margarethe Schlüter and Peter Schäfer, eds., Rabbinische Texte als Gegenstand der Auslegung. Gesammelte Studien II (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1999), 80–95; “Die funktionale Form Midrasch,” in Rabbinische Texte, 199–229; “Midrashsatz: Vorschläge für die descriptive Terminologie der Formanalyse rabbinischer Texte,” in Rabbinische Texte, 112–119. See also Alexander Samely’s comprehensive study, Forms of Rabbinic Literature and Thought (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).



Answer units, lists, meshalim and others. 4 These units would have been well-known to the readership of Pirqe R. El. from earlier classic rabbinic literature, particularly from the Midrashim. Indeed, they can be seen as one of the defining literary features of the midrashic genre. My purpose in the present chapter is (1) to identify some of the key small forms used in Pirqe R. El., (2) to consider how the precise articulation of the form in Pirqe R. El. relates to the form as found in antecedent rabbinic texts, and (3) to analyze how small forms function at a structural and literarygeneric level in Pirqe R. El. Some preliminary comments are needed to contextualize my discussion of the final point here—the structural and literarygeneric function of small forms in Pirqe R. El. Important to my analysis are the inter-related concepts of “white-space” and “common speech.” Theoretically speaking a text could be totally made up of an assembly of small forms. In other words the text could be broken down into small forms without the remainder of the text. Arguably there are tractates in the Mishnah where this would be the case. Pirqe R. El. is not like this: the small forms in it are scattered throughout the text, like cherries in a cake. The textual space between the small forms in Pirqe R. El. I call “white space.” not in the sense that they are blank, but in the sense that their content does not contain small forms. This white space is composed largely of what I call “common speech.” that is to say It it impossible to give comprehensive treatment to each of these small forms in Pirqe R. El. in this chapter. For studies of Pirqe R. El.’s use of proof-text, speech reports, and petiḥot, see Keim, “Pirqei deRabbi Eliezer”, §3.6, 127–165. On these forms, see further: Rivka Ulmer, “Die Verwendung von Schriftversen in rabbinische Texten: einige Vorbemerkungen zur Textkonstitution.” Frankfurter Judaistische Beiträge 12 (1984), 129–145; Rivka Ulmer, “Paraphrasendeutung in Midrasch: die Paraphrase des Petiḥaverses,” Frankfurter Judaistische Beiträge 9 (1981), 115– 161; Richard Sarason, “The Petiḥtot in Leviticus Rabba: “Oral Homilies” or Redactional Constructions?” Journal of Jewish Studies 33 1–2 (1982), 557– 567; Peter Schäfer, “Die Petichah—ein Proömium?” Kairos 12 (1970), 216–219; Burton L. Visotzky, Golden Bells and Pomegranates (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2003). 4



everyday narrative or discourse. This will, of course, have linguistic structure, but its structure will be the unremarkable syntax of common speech. It is a moot point where one should draw the boundary between small forms and the syntactic structures of common speech (the issue is an aspect of the highly complex question regarding the relationship between style and form), but from an analytical point of view a boundary has to, and, indeed, can be drawn, otherwise small forms cease to have any structural or literary-generic meaning. It will become rapidly clear from my analysis that it has been influenced by the methodological approach of the ManchesterDurham Typology of Anonymous and Pseudepigraphic Jewish Literature in Antiquity, c. 200 B.C.E. to c. 700 C.E. project. 5 I am not uncritical of this approach, but I have found it the best instrument to date to give theoretical rigor and sophistication to the kind of literary analysis, which I argue needs to be carried out on texts like Pirqe R. El. Its vindication will turn on how plausible and illuminating the results are that emanate from its application to Pirqe R. El.


The Biblical Lemma + Comment small form is common in midrashic works, and functions at both the micro- and macroThe Manchester-Durham Typology project (2007–2011) was run by Principle Investigator Professor Alexander Samely (University of Manchester), and co-investigators Professors Philip Alexander (University of Manchester) and Robert Hayward (Durham University), with postdoctoral research assistant Dr. Rocco Bernasconi. The Typology project produced an Inventory of Structurally Important Literary Features (available on the project’s website: www.manchester.ac.uk/ancient jewishliterature) with which one can produce a literary profile of a text. The Database for Literary Analysis continues to be updated online: (http://literarydatabase.humanities.manchester.ac.uk). The project also produced a volume, Alexander Samely, Profiling Jewish Literature in Antiquity: An Inventory, from Second Temple Texts to the Talmuds (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), wherein the approach and methods of the project are described and argued. 5



structural level of a text. In its most basic sense, the Biblical Lemma + Comment micro-form is just that: the quotation of a Biblical lemma (usually around a sentence in length), followed by a short comment. 6 The Biblical Lemma + Comment micro-form may be extended by a further Biblical quotation, although this does not appear in all cases. The Biblical Lemma + Comment microform is also called a ‘midrashic unit’. 7 The Biblical Lemma + Comment form can structure small, self-contained units in a work dominated by other forms (e.g., works that do not take the form of lemmatic commentary, such as works dominated by discourse or narrative). These small midrashic units can be used in combination with other small forms to structure the text. Biblical Lemma + Comment can also structure the text of an entire work, as is the case in Genesis Rabbah. Where this is the case, the midrashic macroform can be described as a series of repeated midrashic microforms; the Biblical Lemma + Comment unit is repeated throughout the work, and when taken together the repetition of this small form creates the macro-form of lemmatic commentary. The repeated midrashic micro-form does not have to be uniform in its expression, nor does the pattern necessarily need to be repeated in precisely the same way. It is most often the case that the midrashic micro-forms follow the sequence of the Biblical text that is being expounded upon, thus building a sense of coherence through the repetition of the form as well as through the sequential shadowing of the co-text. Like many midrashic works, Pirqe R. El. has a strong interest in the exposition of Biblical topics and themes. Pirqe R. El.’s engagement with Scripture is, however, highly selective and not confined to the exposition of themes from one particular book. “By separating the biblical and rabbinic voices, the midrashic unit enshrines the biblical text as an open source for future interpretation. The format allows for a separation of interpretation from text, and thus of claim from evidence.” Alexander Samely, Forms of Rabbinic Literature and Thought: An Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 68. 7 Samely, Forms of Rabbinic Literature, 9; Samely, Profiling Jewish Literature, 292. Cf. Arnold Goldberg, “Die Funktionale Form Midrasch,” in Rabbinische Texte als Gegenstand der Auslegung, 199–229. 6



The topics Pirqe R. El. selects come in the majority from Genesis and parts of Exodus, with excursus on topics and narratives from across the Tanakh. It is not structured by the Biblical Lemma + Comment macro-form; it is not in any way a lemmatic exposition on the Biblical books it is shadowing, and its exposition of the topics it does cover is selective and not in any lemmatic or strict topical order. Pirqe R. El. does, however, employ micro-form Biblical Lemma + Comment units on occasion. These midrashic units are employed occasionally, and they are not uniform in their expression. The Biblical Lemma + Comment micro-form does not repeat frequently enough to be considered as contributing significantly to the structure of the work, but does function as one of the many building blocks that make up the work. The following examples will illustrate the way in which Pirqe R. El. employs the Biblical Lemma + Comment micro-form. (1) (1) Pirqe R. El. 28, 303/1-305/4: [[ ‫]]רבי עקיבא אומר הראה הקב’’ה לאברהם אבינו בין‬ ‫הבתרים ]ארבע[ מלכיות מושלן ואובדין שנאמר ויאמר‬ ‫אליו קחה לי עגלה משלשת )בראשית טו ט( ]עגלה‬ ‫משלשת )בראשית טו ט([ זו מלכות רביעית שהיא‬ ‫מלכות אדום שהיא כעגלה דשת )ירמיה נ יא( ועז‬ ‫משלשת )בראשית טו ט( זו מלכות יון שנאמר וצפיר‬ ‫העזים הגדיל עד מאד )דניאל ח ח( ואיל משלש‬ ‫)בראשית טו ט( זו מלכות מדי ופרס ותור )בראשית טו‬ ‫ט( אלו בני ישמעאל לא נאמר תור זה בלשון תורה‬ ‫אלא בלשון ארמית תור זה השור כשיצמיד שור זכר‬ ‫עם נקבה יפתחו וישדדו את כל העמקים וגוזל‬ ‫)בראשית טו ט( אלו ישראל שנמשלו כגוזל שנאמר‬ ‫יונתי בחגוי הסלע )שה’’ש ב יד( וכתוב אחר אומר‬ (‫)אחת היא יונתי תמתי )שה’’ש ו ט‬

Rabbi Akiva 8 said: The Holy One, blessed be He, let Abraham see four kingdoms between the pieces, their dominion and their downfall, as it is said, “He said to him, ‘Bring me a heifer This dictum is attributed to Rabbi Eliezer in Friedlander’s edition (p. 198). 8

SMALL FORMS IN PIRQE DE-RABBI ELIEZER three years old, [a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtle-dove, and a young pigeon.’”] (Gen 15:9). [‘A heifer three years old’ (ibid.)] This is the fourth kingdom, the kingdom of Edom, that is “like a heifer on grass” (Jer 50:11). ‘A female goat three years old.’ This is the kingdom of Greece, as it is said, “And the male goat made himself exceedingly great” (Dan 8:8). ‘A ram three years old.’ This is the kingdom of Media and Persia. ‘And a turtle-dove.’ This refers to the sons of Ishmael. This expression ‘‫ ’תור‬is not to be understood as in the language of Torah, but in the Aramaic language: The Aramaic ‘‫ ’תור‬is the Hebrew ‘‫( ’השור‬Ox). For when a male ox is harnessed to the female, they will open and break all the valleys. ‘And a young pigeon.’ This refers to the Israelites, who are compared to a young pigeon, as it is said, “O my dove, in the clefts of the rock” (Cant 2:14). And another verse says, “My dove, my perfect one, is the only one” (Cant 6:9).


Pirqe R. El. chapter 28 falls within the macro-structural schema of the Ten Trials of Abraham, that govern chapters 26–31. Pirqe R. El. 28 is concerned particularly with the episode of the covenant between the pieces of Gen 15, and the chapter opens with a lemma (of sorts), introducing the topic: “The Seventh Trial: “After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Abram’ (Gen 15:1).” The text gives a short discourse on the subject of revelation in a vision, before continuing with the shadowing of Gen 15. The passage quoted above comes at this point in the text, and is a classic example of Biblical Lemma + Comment micro-form in Pirqe R. El. The text begins its discourse on the covenant between the pieces with a speech report attributed to Rabbi Akiva, concerning the relation of the covenant between the pieces and the dominion and downfall of the four kingdoms. This topic header functions as an implied lemma, and signals the exegetical direction the discourse will take. This topic header is supported by the quotation of a prooftext from Gen 15:9. This prooftext is swiftly re-lemmatized, as the text breaks the prooftext verse down into its smallest units of meaning, and expounds on the



meaning of each part: the heifer is Edom; 9 the female goat is Greece; the ram is Media and Persia; the turtle-dove is the sons of Ishmael; the young pigeon is Israel. The interpretations of each of these units carrying meaning is then supplied with a prooftext from Jeremiah, Daniel, and Canticles. The re-lemmatization of the prooftext verse has two purposes: (a) to connect the prooftext verse to the implied lemma, and (b) to connect the Biblical topic that is being shadowed to the overall themes of the text. By breaking down the prooftext into its meaningful units and connecting these to the topic of the demise of the four kingdoms, the text is making claims about the limited power of these kingdoms over Israel. The discourse here expounds on the Biblical topic it is shadowing in order to make a connection with one of its key themes: the messianic redemption of Israel. (2) Pirqe R. El. 37, 467/5–465/8: ‫כאשר ינוס איש מפני הארי ופגעו הדוב )עמוס ה יט( הארי‬ ‫– זה לבן שרדף אחרי יעקב לחטוף את נפשו הדוב – זה‬ ‫עשו שעמד על הדרך ]]כדוב שכול[[ בא להמית אם על‬ ‫הבנים ]]והארי יש לו בושת פנים[[ והדוב אין לו בושת‬ ‫פניםא עמד יעקב והיה מתפלל לפני הקבה ואמר רבון כל‬ ‫העולמים לא כך אמרת לי שוב אל ארץ אבותיך ולמולדתך‬ ‫ואהיה עמך )בראשית לא ג( ]]והרי עשו אחי עתה בא‬ ‫להרגני ואינו מתיירא ממך ואני מתייר ממנו מכאן אמרו אל‬ ‫תתיירא מפני איש שוטר ומושל אלא מפני אדם שאין בו‬ ‫יראת שמים ועמד לו על הדרך כדוב שכול להמית אם על‬ ‫בנים[[ מה עשה הקב’’ה שלח לו מלאך‬

As if a man fled from a lion and a bear met him (Amos 5:19). The lion—this is Laban, who pursued Jacob to destroy his life. The bear—this is Esau, who stood by the way like a bereaved bear, to slay the mother with the children. The lion is shamefaced, the bear is not shamefaced. Jacob stood and prayed before the Holy One, blessed be He, saying, Sovereign of all the worlds, have you not spoken thus to me: Return to the land of your fathers, ‘Edom’ is a cypher for Rome/the Roman Empire/Christianity that is used frequently throughout Pirqe R. El. 9



and to your kindred, and I will be with you? (Gen 31:3). And behold, Esau, my brother, has now come to slay me; he does not fear You, but I fear him. Hence they say: Do not be afraid of an official or a ruler but fear a man who has no fear of heaven. Esau stood by the way like a bereaved bear, to slay mother and child. What did the Holy One, blessed be He, do? He sent an angel, etc.

Here, the lemma is not derived directly from the underlying Biblical text, but the link between them is swiftly established. As with the first example above, it is very difficult to tell where the Biblical Lemma + Comment midrashic unit ends; the text simply continues with its discourse. There are few chapters that begin directly with lemmata like this, 10 and it is clear that these lemmata are employed in service of a rhetorical purpose. When a chapter opens with such a lemma in Pirqe R. El., the lemma functions as an emblematic quotation to set the topic and springboard the discourse that follows. In the first example above, the implied lemma of Gen 15:9 links the Pirqe R. El.’s selective shadowing of Genesis to one of the text’s recurring themes, the restoration of Israel by the coming messiah. In the second example, the lemmatized quotation from Amos is not from the part of Scripture the chapter is shadowing (Gen 31), but is made directly relevant to it. The following must also be noted: (a) Sometimes the Biblical lemmata are not expounded. They are employed to set the tone of the discourse, setting the reader’s thoughts in a certain direction. The lack of comment limits the lemma from becoming a midrashic microform similar to those we see above (cf. The opening of Pirqe R. El. 24);

The following chapters open with biblical quotations: Pirqe R. El. 20 (Gen 3:24 (211/6)); Pirqe R. El. 21 (Gen 3:3 (221/9–10)); Pirqe R. El. 22 (Gen 5:3 (235/6–7)); Pirqe R. El. 23 (Gen 6:15 (243/12)); Pirqe R. El. 33 (Gen 26:12 (383/1–2)); Pirqe R. El. 34 (Deut 32:39 (407/6)); Pirqe R. El. 35 (Qoh 7:8 (425/11)); Pirqe R. El. 36 (Prov 4:12 (439/12)); Pirqe R. El. 37 (Amos 5:19 (465/8)); Pirqe R. El. 38 (Amos 5:19 (477/7–8)); Pirqe R. El. 42 (Exod 13:17 (559/6)); Pirqe R. El. 50 (Esth 2:5 (683/18)). 10



(b) The Bible is not the only source of lemmatized text. Quotation from texts such as Pirqe Avot can also be lemmatized, and are treated in the same way as Scripture is elsewhere (cf. the opening of Pirqe R. El. chapter 16);

(c) Many of these lemmata, whether they are commented upon or not, are found at the beginning of chapters, suggesting that the chapter divisions of Pirqe R. El. reflect the discourse structure of the work and are likely old. What is clear from a thorough synchronic literary analysis of Pirqe R. El. is that the Biblical Lemma + Comment midrashic micro-form is inconsistently constructed and applied in the discourse of the work. It is not of the type found in earlier rabbinic midrashim; Pirqe R. El. here attempts to appropriate a classic midrashic form in non-classic and flexible ways.


The Question and Answer unit small form is a structural device employed throughout rabbinic literature. 11 Question and Answer units are constituted by a question posed by the text that is immediately followed by a response. The Question and Answer unit is self-contained, in that it does not ask open questions with open-ended responses: the questions are direct, and the answers provided address the question asked directly. The Question and Answer unit functions to move the text forward, either by signaling a move to a new theme, or to clarify the meaning of a word. The word that is clarified can either be from the same text (where it is usually taken from the preceding sentence or topic), or from a cotext that is being shadowed or quoted. Question and Answer units can be used to structure dispute units (found in the vast majority of works of rabbinic literature), and can provide thematic structure to a text. The Question and Answer small form can be applied to discourse, commentary, and narrative settings in a text, and is as such a flexible tool in the hands of an author/compiler. The form is also not essential to the expression of a work; it can be replaced or omitted without compromising the sense of the text. 11

See Samely, Profiling Jewish Literature, 297–298.



The Question and Answer form is frequently used in Pirqe R. El., but it is important to distinguish between the use of Question and Answer units in narrative and in discourse/commentary settings as they function in distinctively different ways. In Question and Answer units in narrative texts, the classic question is “What did he do (mah ʿasah) (‫ ”?)מה עשה‬For example: (1) Pirqe R. El. 10, 93/8–11: ‫והאניה שירד בה יונה היתה רחוקה מיפו מהלך שני ימים‬ ‫לנסות את יונה מה עשה הקב’’ה הביא שליה רוח סערה‬ ‫בים והחאירה ליפו וראה יונה ושמח בלבו ואמר עכשיו אני‬ ‫יודע שדרכי מיושרת לפני‬

“And the ship in which Jonah might have embarked was two days distant from Yafo—to test Jonah. What did the Holy One, blessed be He do? He sent against it a mighty tempest on the sea and brought it back to Yafo. And Jonah saw and rejoiced in his heart, and said: ‘Now I know that my way will prosper before me’.”

(2) Pirqe R. El. 21, 231/3–6:

‫רבי יוחנן אמר לא היה יודע קין שהנסתרות גלויות לפני‬ ‫המקום מה עשה נטל את נבלתו של אחיו והפר וטמן אותו‬ ‫בארץ‬

“Rabbi Yoḥanan said: Cain did not know that secrets are revealed before the Holy One, blessed be He. What did he do? He took the corpse of his brother, and dug and hid it in the earth.”

(3) Pirqe R. El. 31, 363/13–18:

‫וישא אברהם את עיניו וירא והנה איל )בראשית כב יג( מה‬ ‫עשה האיל פשט את ידו בטליתו של אברהם והביט אברהם‬ ‫וראה את האיל ולקח אותו והתירו והקריבו תחת יצחק‬

“And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in the thicket by its horns (Gen 22:13). What did the ram do? It stretched out its leg and took hold of the coat of Abraham, and Abraham saw the ram, and he took it and set it free, and offered it instead of Isaac.”



In all three of these cases, the mah ʿasah element could be omitted without detracting from the basic sense of the text. In fact, it is omitted in some of the manuscript witnesses. This does not, however, mean that the Question and Answer small form as we have it in the narrative sections of Pirqe R. El. do not serve a purpose. These small forms interrupt the narrative, raise the attention of the reader, and function to put some emphasis on the action that follows, which in some cases involves the resolution of a crisis in the story. In other words, its function is rhetorical; it enhances the communicative-persuasive force of the text. The third case is a common use of the Question and Answer small form in the narrative, where the action solves a problem or fills a gap in the Biblical text. How could Abraham have seen the ram if it was behind him? The answer is that the ram tugged his cloak and drew his attention. In the discourse and commentary settings of Pirqe R. El., the Question and Answer units serve to add clarification, e.g.: (1) Pirqe R. El. 16, 155/16–19: ‫רבי יוסי אומר מנין אנו למדין שבעת ימי המשתה מיעקב‬ ‫אבינו כשנשא את לאה עשה שבעת ימי המשתה שנאמר‬ (‫מלא שבוע זאת )בראשית כט כז‬

Rabbi Yose said: From where do we learn the seven days of banquet? From our father Jacob. When he married Leah he made a banquet for seven days, as it is said, Complete the week for this one (Gen 29:27).

(2) Pirqe R. El. 17, 167/1–4:

‫גמילות חסדים לאבלים מנין אנו למדין מהקב’’ה שהוא בעצמו‬ ‫גמל חסד למשה עבדו וקברו בידו ואלמלא הדבר כתוב אי‬ (‫אפשר לאמרו שנאמר ויקבור אתו בגי )דברים לד ו‬ From where do we learn the service of loving kindness to mourners? From the Holy One, blessed be He, who

Himself showed loving kindness to Moses His servant, and buried him with His own hand, as it is said, And He buried him in the valley (Deut 34:6).

(3) Pirqe R. El. 32, 367/5–9:

‫ששה נקראו בשמותן עד שלא נולדו ואלו הן יצחק וישמעאל‬ ‫ומשה רבינו ושלמה ויאשיהו ושמו של משיח שיביא הקב’’ה‬

SMALL FORMS IN PIRQE DE-RABBI ELIEZER ‫במהרה בימינו יצחק מנין שנאמר וקראת את אמו יצחק‬ (‫)בראשות יז יט‬

Six people were called by their names before they were born, and these are: Isaac, Ishmael, Moses, Solomon, Josiah, and the King Messiah. Isaac, from where? As it is said, And you shall call his name Isaac (Gen 17:19) (etc.)

(4) Pirqe R. El. 45, 605/19–607/15:

‫הלכו להם אצל חבריו של משה אהרן וחור בן אחותו ומנין‬ ‫שהיה חור בן אחותו שנאמר ותמת עזובה ויקח לו כלב את‬ ‫אפרת ותלד לו את חור )דה’’א ב יט( ולמה נקרא שמה של‬ ‫מרים אפרת פלטוני בת מלכים מגדולי הדור שכל נשיא‬ ‫וגדול שעמד בישראל נקרא שמו אפרת שנאמר ירבעם בן‬ (‫נבט אפרתי )מ’’א יא כו( ודוד בן איש אפרתי )ש’’א יז יב‬ ‫וכי אפרתי היה והלא משבט יהודה היה אלא בן פלטוני בן‬ ‫מלכים מגדולי הדור היה ולפי שהיה חור משבט יהודה‬ ‫ומגדולי הדור התחיל מוכיח לישראל דברים קשים והבזויים‬ ‫שבישראל עמדו עליו והרגוהו וראה אהרן לחור שנהרג ובנה‬ ‫מזבח שנאמר וירא אהרן )שמות לב ה( מה ראה שנהרג‬ (‫חור בן אחותו ובנה מזבח שנאמר ויבן מזבח )שמות לב ה‬ They betook themselves to the companions of Moses, Aaron, and Hur, the son of his sister. From where (do we know) that Hur was the son of Moses’ sister? As it is said, And Azubah died and Caleb took to himself Ephrath, who bore him Hur (1 Chr 2:19). Why was Miriam’s name called Ephrath? She was a daughter of the palace, a daughter of kings, one of the great ones of the generation, for every prince and great one who arose in Israel his name was called Ephrath, as it is said, And Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, an Ephrathite (1 Kgs 11:26); And David was the son of an Ephrathite man (1 Sam 16:12). Was he then an Ephrathite? Was he not of the tribe of Judah? But he was a son of the palace, a son of kings, one of the great ones of the generation. But since Hur was of the tribe of Judah, and one of the great ones of the generation he began reproving Israel with harsh words, and the most despicable ones in Israel rose up against him, and slew him. And Aaron saw that Hur was slain; and he built an altar, as it is said: And Aaron saw (Exod 32:5). What did he see? That Hur the son



KATHARINA KEIM of his sister was slain, and he built an altar, as it is said: And he built an altar (Exod 32:5).

Here, as in narrative, the question asked is often unnecessary to the progression of the text. The text that follows the question “What did he see?” at the end of the fourth example above is not required for the what follows, and in some manuscripts is omitted entirely. In fact, the Question and Answer small form is not always required in the construction of Pirqe R. El.’s exposition, and could be rephrased without adversely affecting the meaning. As in narrative, however, the Question and Answer unit serves a rhetorical function, challenging the readers and inviting their attention. The Question and Answer unit can also function to give emphasis to what follows, and appears in general to vary and enliven the discourse; example 4 above shows how heavily the text can rely on the form for such a purpose. The uses of the Question and Answer small form in Pirqe R. El. is instructive, and shows how the minnayin (‫“ מנין‬from where”) question has been used in the aggadic settings of later works. This question formula is well known from the Mishnah, where it is employed in a technical sense to ask for a Scriptural basis for a particular piece of halakhah or custom. This is in keeping with one of the main objectives of the Mishnah—to justify existing rulings and practices from the Torah. This is precisely the force of minnayin in the first two examples, but in the midrashim and elsewhere in Pirqe R. El. the usage widened to include aggadah. This is evidently the case in example 3 where the point at issue is clearly not halakhic. This is an instructive case and shows how the minnayin question can be used to expand a list. We first have the bare list of six people who were named before their birth. Then each item on the list is taken and a Scriptural proof provided to back up the claim. Minnayin provides a very neat way of re-lemmatizing the list, and structuring the commentary on it, though it is not the only way this could have been done. The answer is provided by a Proof-text introduced by the Proof-text formula she-ne’emar (‫“ )שנאמר‬as it is



said.” 12 Indeed the minnayin and the she-ne’emar so closely correlate in cases like this that it would be possible to classify them as simply a version of the Proof-text unit, in which she-ne’emar has been secondarily strengthened by minnayin. It should be noted, however, how spare and formulaic the language is. There is normally no verb with minnayin, and there is no attempt to accommodate the syntax of the apodosis to the protasis. One would expect the min-element in the latter to be picked up somehow in the former: “From where do we know this? From the verse.” Instead what we have is: “From where? That which is written.”


Lists occur frequently throughout Pirqe R. El., and can be described in two basic types: (1) a bare list, which enumerates items in words or phrases; and (2) an expanded list, in which the bare list is augmented in some way, usually by a commentary that treats each item in turn. 13 Both types are strongly represented in the classic Midrashim and the Mishnah, Tosefta, and Talmuds, with the first type also occurring in more narrative texts such as Jubilees, Judith, 1, 2, and 4 Maccabees, and 1 Esdras. In general, list-making (Listenwissenschaft) was a major feature of scholarship in antiquity in all known literary traditions—Akkadian, Egyptian, and Greek. It is particularly at home in thematic discourse, though it occurs in other kinds of text as well. 14 An example of a bare list can be found in Pirqe R. El. 3, 19/22–21/1: ‫ושמנה ביום השני ואלו הן הבאר והמן והמטה והקשת‬ ‫“ והכתב והמכתב והכותנות והמזיקין‬And eight [things were created] on the second day, and these are: the Well, the Manna, the Rod, the Indeed, Pirqe R. El. uses a number of citation formulae to signpost a proof-text unit, including ve-khatuv ’ehad ’omer, lekhakh ne’emar, kakh ketiv, ve-’amar. 13 Cf. Samely, Profiling Jewish Literature, 294. 14 See Wayne Sibley Towner, The Rabbinic ‘Enumeration of Scriptural Examples’ (Leiden: Brill, 1973) for studies of list-making in the enumeration of scriptural examples in rabbinic, non-rabbinic, and early Christian texts. See also Roy S. Shasha, Forms and Functions of Lists in the Mishnah (Ph.D. diss., University of Manchester, 2006). 12



Rainbow, the [art of] Writing, the Instrument of Writing, the Garments, and the Demons.” Twenty similar lists are found in Pirqe R. El. and they are consistent with the examples occurring in classic rabbinic literature. In the second type of list, the bare list is expanded in some way, e.g., each item may be commented upon in sequence, and proofs given from Scripture for including it in the list. The following example from Pirqe R. El. 29 317/17-319/21 describes five categories of uncircumcised things (corlah), and is a clear example of such an expanded list: ‫רבי זעירא אומר חמש ערלות בעולם ארבע באדם ואחת‬ ‫באילן ארבע באדם ]אלו הן ערלת האוזן ערלת שפתים‬ ‫ערלת לב ערלת בשר[ מנין ערלת האוזן שנאמר והנה‬ ‫ערלה אזנם )ירמיה ו י( ערלת שפתים שנאמר ואני ערל‬ ‫שפתים )שמות ו יב( ערלת הלב שנאמר ומלתם את ערלת‬ ‫לבבכם )דברים י טז( ערלת בשר מנין שנאמר וערל זכר‬ ‫אשר לא ימול את בשר ערלתו )בראשית יז יד( ]]ואומר‬ ‫כי כל הגוים ערלים וכל בית ישראל ערלי לב )ירמיה ט‬ ‫כה([[ וערלת הלב אינה מנחת ]ישראל[ לעשות רצון‬ ‫בוראו ולעתיד לבא הקב’’ה מסיר את ערלת הלב מעליהן‬ ‫ואינן מקשין את ערפם לפני בוראם שנאמר והסרותי את‬ (‫לב האבן מבשרכם ונתתי לכם לב בשר )יחזקאל לו כו‬ ‫ואומר ומלתם את ערלת לבבכם )דברים י טז( אחת באילן‬ ‫שנאמר וכי תבאו אל הארץ ונטעתם כל עץ מאכל‬ (‫וערלתם ערלתו את פריו )ויקרא יט כג‬

A. [List] Rabbi Ze’era said: There are five kinds of uncircumcised things in the world, four (relating to) man, and one (relating to) trees. The four (which relate to) man are: The uncircumcision of the ear, the uncircumcision of the lips, the uncircumcision of the heart, and the uncircumcision of the flesh. B.1 [Exposition] Whence do we know of the uncircumcision of the ear? As it is written, See their ears are uncircumcised (Jer 6:10). B.2 (Whence do we know of) the uncircumcision of the lips? As it is written, And I am uncircumcised of lips (Exod 6:12).



B.3 (Whence do we know of) the uncircumcision of the heart? As it is written, Circumcise the foreskin of your heart (Deut 10:16).

B.4 (Whence do we know of) the uncircumcision of the flesh? As it is written, Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin [will be cut off from his people, he has broken My covenant] (Gen 17:14). C.1 And it says, For all the nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel is uncircumcised of heart (Jer 9:25).

D. And the uncircumcised heart keeps Israel from doing the will of their Creator. And in the future the Holy One, blessed be He, will take away the uncircumcision of the heart from them, and they will not harden their stubborn (heart) before their Creator, as it is said, I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh, and give you a heart of flesh (Ezek 36:26). C.2 And it says, Circumcise the foreskin of your heart (Deut 10:16). B.5 (There is) one (uncircumcision relating to) trees, as it is said, And when you come into the land and plant trees for food, you shall regard its fruit as uncircumcised (Lev 19:23).

This is a typical example of a complex expansion of a basic list. The basic list itself already contains the complication that its five items are grouped into 4 + 1. The commentary consists of establishing the Biblical basis for each item in the list, and takes the form of a Question and Answer unit. Items 3 and 4 attract further glossing which is not found in the case of items 1, 2, and 5. The added glossing is attached to the core commentary by means of the formula ve-’omer (‫)ואומר‬, “and it (also) says,” which is commonly used to present an additional proof-text. Here it discusses in the same verse both the nations who are uncircumcised in the flesh and Israel who are uncircumcised of heart, thus proving both items 3 and 4. This additional proof-text attracts a further comment to the effect that it is uncircumcision of heart that prevents Israel from doing God’s will, but God will one day remove this condition, with proof from Ezek 36:26. The example of an extended list above is noteworthy, in that it illustrates how compositionally active such lists can be in Pirqe R. El., and how they can stimulate and generate expansion and



comment. In all, there are fourteen extended lists in Pirqe R. El. Of all the small forms employed in Pirqe R. El., the impact of lists on the structure of the work is the most wide-ranging. The examples above illustrate the way in which lists structure small portions of text, ranging from a few lines (e.g. the list of seven things created before the creation of the universe in Pirqe R. El. 3, 15/4-17/18) up to several pages of discourse (e.g. the list of ten kings who ruled from one end of the world to the other in Pirqe R. El. 11, 115/9121/8). However, lists can, and do, structure larger portions of Pirqe R. El. The Ten Descents of God are listed in Pirqe R. El. 14, and resonate beyond their initial setting right to the end of the work, influencing the structure of the text’s exposition. 15 The Ten Trials of Abraham set the topic and create the structure for

Pirqe R. El. 14, 141/7–15: “Ten descents of the earth were made by the Holy One, blessed be He, and these are: (1) Once in the Garden of Eden; (2) once at (the time of) the generation of the Dispersion; (3) once at Sodom; (4) once at the thorn-bush; (5) once at Sinai; (6) + (7) twice at the cleft of the rock; (8) + (9) twice at the Tent of the Assembly; (10) once in the future.” Friedlander’s edition has the same content for descents 1–4, but differs from the fifth descent onwards: “(5) Once in Egypt; (6) once at Sinai; (7) once at the cleft of the rock; (8) and (9) twice in the tent of Assembly; (10) once in the future.” (Friedlander, Pirḳê de Rabbi Eliezer, 97.) The descents of God as enumerated in the Friedlander edition match up better (although, not perfectly) with the text that follows. The descents appear in the work as follows: (1) in the Garden of Eden (in Pirqe R. El. 14); (2) at the generation of the Dispersion (in Pirqe R. El. 24); (3) at Sodom (in Pirqe R. El. 25); (4) at the thorn-bush (in Pirqe R. El. 40); (5) in Egypt (in Pirqe R. El. 39); (6) at Sinai (in Pirqe R. El. 41); (7) at the cleft of the rock (in Pirqe R. El. 46); (8) (and (9)?) at the tent of the Assembly (in Pirqe R. El. 53). If one follows the descents of God throughout Pirqe R. El. according to Friedlander's schema, one can note that the Ten Descents do have a weaker, but still noticable influence on the structuring of the content of the work. See further: Keim, “Pirqei deRabbi Eliezer”, 132–133 (§ Structuring by lists), and Appendix C of the same. 15



chapters 26-31. 16 This is not so easily paralleled in classic rabbinic texts. In classic rabbinic literature lists function at the level of the micro-form, that is to say, they serve as small building-blocks for larger compositions, but do not themselves structure them. The latter development may be a feature of later texts.


The small form of the Mashal is common in classic rabbinic literature, and can be described as a parable, a formalized simile, or a similitude. 17 It is introduced by a standard formula: mashelu mashal le-mah ha-davar domeh le-, “They told a parable. To what is the matter like? To…” This formula became standardized in a reduced form as mashal le- or le-mah ha- davar domeh, or even simply le-. The Mashal draws a parallel between the qualities of two objects or the actions of two actors or sets of actors in order to explain a text, to illustrate The Ten Trials of Abraham is announced as a topic at the beginning of chapter 26: “Our father Abraham was tested with ten trials, and he stood firm in them all.” (Pirqe R. El. 26, 283/8–10) The trials are not enumerated here; rather, the list of the trials is given one by one as they are each treated in turn by the discourse (Pirqe R. El. 26 = trials 1–5; Pirqe R. El. 27= trial 6; Pirqe R. El. 28 = trial 7; Pirqe R. El. 29 = trial 8; Pirqe R. El. 30 = trial 9; Pirqe R. El. 31 = trial 10). Trials 6–10 govern entire chapters, which begin with the announcement of the trial to be treated therein in a topical sentence (e.g., Pirqe R. El. 27 opens: “The sixth trial (was when) Amraphel and all his allies came against him to kill him.” (Pirqe R. El. 27, 293/1–2)). See further: Keim, “Pirqei deRabbi Eliezer”, 132–133 (§ Structuring by lists), and Appendix C of the same. 17 The challenge of describing the form ‘Mashal’ has been noted by Goldberg (“Der Terminus Mashal bezeichnet sowohl in der Schrift, als auch in der rabbinischen Literatur mehrere durchaus unterschiedliche Formen und Verfahren des Vergleichs; Mashal bezeichnet den Spruch, das Sprichwort, den Bildspruch, die Metapher, den Vergleich, das Gleichnis und die Parabel –, was immer man unter den drei letzten Termini verstehen möchte.” A. Goldberg, “Das Schriftauslegnde Gleichnis im Midrasch,” in Rabbinische Texte, 136. Cf. David Stern, Parables in Midrash: Narrative and Exegesis in Rabbinic Literature (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991), 4–16. 16



a point of wisdom, or to embellish a description. The Mashal is closely connected to discourse and narrative settings in rabbinic literature, and is one of the oldest of the small forms. 18 The classic rabbinic Mashal is composed of two parts: “The first part presents a typified account of how some character(s), usually defined by their social role or craft, pass through two (or more) sequential stages, or make a choice between two (or more) alternatives. The second part identifies Biblical actions or events, which exhibit similar stages or choices. The first part is often referred to—confusingly—by the word mashal in the narrow sense, the second by the word nimshal, usually introduced by ‘thus’ (kakh).” 19 The Mashal presents a hypothetical or typical event rather than a full narrative, and its significance is in the connection between the mashal and the nimshal, which provide an interpretative framework for how the parts of the Biblical story being expounded upon relate to one another. 20 Leviticus Rabbah 2:4 offers an example of a classic rabbinic Mashal: [Lemma/Davar] Speak to the Children of Israel (Lev 1:2).

Rabbi Judan said in the name of Rabbi Samuel bar Naḥman: [Mashal formula] A parable. [Mashal] To a king who had a garment, about which he gave strict instructions to his servant, saying: “Fold it, and shake it, and look after it well.” The servant said to him: “My lord the king, of all the garments you have, you give me instructions concerning none but this alone.” He said to him: “That is because I put this garment close to my body.” [Nimshal] Thus (kakh) did Moses say before the Holy One, blessed be He: Out of the seventy original nations which You have in Your world, you commanded me concerning

Samely, Forms of Rabbinic Literature, 188–192; Samely, Profiling Jewish Literature, 301; Stern, Parables in Midrash. See in particular Goldberg’s seminal essay “Das Schriftauslegnde Gleichnis im Midrasch,” in Rabbinische Texte, 134–198. 19 Samely, Forms of Rabbinic Literature, 189. Italics in original text. 20 Samely, Forms of Rabbinic Literature, 189. 18



none but Israel, saying, Command the children of Israel (Num 28:2), Speak to the Children of Israel (Lev 1:2), Say to the children of Israel (Exod 33:5). He said to him, ‘That is because they cleave to me.’ [Concluding verse] This is that which is written (hada’ hu’ dikhetiv), For as the girdle cleaves to the loins of a man, so have I caused to cleave unto Me the whole house of Israel (Jer 13:11).

This example of a classic rabbinic Mashal illustrates two key points about the features of this form: (1) the most common type of Mashal in the rabbinic cannon involves the comparison between God and a King; 21 and (2) the classic rabbinic Mashal has a strong connection to exegesis, in that it attaches to and expounds upon quoted Biblical text (lemma). Pirqe R. El. includes eight Meshalim, 22 which are distributed throughout the text. The style of the work may have contributed to the small number of examples of Meshalim in the work, but an analysis of these cases is nevertheless revealing. When read against the classic examples of the Mashal form (such as the example from Leviticus Rabbah above), the Meshalim in Pirqe R. El. show distinctive traits. Of these, the most significant are (a) that the Meshalim in Pirqe R. El. are attached not to Biblical lemmata but to general theological statements; and (b) that the Meshalim are often concerned with subjects other than God’s kingship over Israel. The following example from Pirqe R. El. 41, 555/6-15 illustrates the type of Mashal found in Pirqe R. El.: (‫ויהי כשמעכם את הקול מתוך החשך )דברים ה כ\כג‬ ‫ולמה השמיע הקב’’ה את קולו מתוך האש והחשך ולא‬ ‫מתוך האור למה הדבר דומה למלך שהיה לו אסטרלגוס‬ ‫והיה משיא בנו אשה ותלה בחופת בנו פרכיות שחורות‬ See Stern, Parables in Midrash, 19–21. These are found in Pirqe R. El. 3, 13/14–15/3; Pirqe R. El. 13, 135/13–19; Pirqe R. El. 13, 137/1–12; Pirqe R. El. 34, 411/10–11 (cf. Friedlander ed. p. 254); Pirqe R. El. 34, 421/5–8; Pirqe R. El. 41, 555/6– 15; Pirqe R. El. 43, 585/8–14; and Pirqe R. El. 44, 599/1–10. Cf. Keim, “Pirqei deRabbi Eliezer”, 403–404 (Appendix F.4). 21 22


KATHARINA KEIM ‫ולא פרכיות לבנות אמרו לו בני פלטרין אדוננו המלך אין‬ ‫אדם תולה בחופת בנו אלא פרכיות לבנות אמר להם יודע‬ ‫אני שאין בני ממתין את אשתו אלא ארבעים יום שלא‬ ‫ אל היה יודע מה עתיד לאירע‬23 ‫יאמרו למחר אסטרלגוס‬ ‫לבנו כך המלך זה הקב’’ה והנן שלו אלו ישראל והכלה זו‬ ‫התורה‬

[Lemma] And it came to pass, when you heard the voice from the midst of the darkness (Deut 5:20)

[Davar] Why did the Holy One, blessed be He, cause His voice to be heard out of the midst of fire and the darkness, and not out of the midst of light? [Mashal formula] To what is the matter like?

[Mashal] To a king who had an astrologer. The king was marrying his son to a woman, and he hung in the wedding chamber of his son black curtains, and not white. The courtiers said to him: Our Lord the king, ‘A man hangs only white curtains in the wedding chamber of his son.’ He said to them: ‘I know that my son will remain with his wife for only forty days; so that later they should not say that the king was an astrologer, yet he did not know what would happen to his son.’

[Nimshal] So with the King, who is the Holy One, blessed be He, and His son is Israel, and the bride the Torah. The Holy One, blessed be He, knew that Israel would remain loyal to the commandments for only forty days, therefore the Holy One, blessed be He, caused them to hear His voice out of the midst of darkness, and not out of the midst of light. [Concluding verse] Therefore (lefikakh) the Holy One, blessed be He caused them to hear His voice from the midst of fire and darkness.



The Börner-Klein text contains a misprint: ‫( אסטרוגולוס‬p. 555 line



The example above contains all the components of the classic rabbinic Mashal: It illustrates a Biblical lemma (Deut 5:20); it concerns the kingship of God over Israel; each side of the comparison is complex and has several points of comparison and it ends with a Biblical quote. The conclusion paraphrases the lemma, and uses lefikakh rather than a citation formula such as she-ne’emar. The Mashal is rounded off by an inclusio rather than the quotation of a new but related verse. Three further examples illustrate the divergence of the Meshalim in Pirqe R. El. from the classic small form: (1) Pirqe R. El. 3, 13/14–15/3: ‫משלו משל למה הדבר דומה למלך שהוא רוצה לבנות‬ ‫פלטרין שלו אם אינו מחריט בארץ יסדותיו ומובאיו ומוצאיו‬ ‫אינו מתחיל לבנות כך הקב’’ה החריט לפניו את העולם ולא‬ ‫היה עומד עד שברא את התשובה‬

[Davar] Before the world was created, the Holy One, blessed be He, existed with His Name alone, and the thought arose in Him to create the world, and He was tracing out the world before Him, but it would not stand.

[Mashal formula] They told a parable (mashelu mashal). To what is the matter like?

[Mashal] To a king who wishes to build a palace for himself. If he had not traced it out in the earth, its foundations, its exits and entrances, he would not begin to build.

[Nimshal] Thus the Holy One, blessed be He, was tracing out the world before Himself, but it would not remain standing until He created repentance.

(2) Pirqe R. El. 43, 585/8–14:

‫משל למה הדבר דומה לאדם שהוא רוצה לפרוש בים אם‬ ‫אינו לוקח בידו מארץ נושבת ]לחם ]ומים מתוקים[ אינו‬ ‫מוצא בים אם רוצה לילך לו לקצת המרבר אם אינו לוקח‬ ‫מן היישוב לחם ומים במדבר אינו מוצא לאכול ולשתות כך‬ ‫אם אין אדם עושה תשובה בחייו לאחר מיתה אין לו‬ (‫תשובה שנאמר לא ישא פני כל כפר )משלי ו לה‬

[Davar] Repentance is only possible before death. [Mashal formula] A parable. To what is the matter like?


KATHARINA KEIM [Mashal] To a man who wished to take a voyage on the sea. If he did not take with him bread and fresh water from an inhabited land, he will not find it at sea.

If he wishes to go to the end of the wilderness, unless he takes from some inhabited place bread and water, he will not find anything to eat or drink in the wilderness.

[Nimshal] Thus, if a man did not repent in his lifetime, after his death there is no repentance.

[Concluding verse] As it is said, He will not regard any ransom (Prov 6:35).

(3) Pirqe R. El. 34: 24

[Davar] Awakening in the morning is like the future world (le-catid la-bo’).

[Mashal formula] A parable—to what is the matter like? [Mashal] To a man who awakens out of his sleep.

[Nimshal] In like manner will the dead awaken in the future world. [Concluding verse] As it is said, O satisfy us in the morning with Your loving kindness (Ps 90:14).

The Mashal in example (1) above does not expound on a Biblical lemma. Instead, the Mashal illustrates a statement, and has no final prooftext to round out the unit. The Mashal formula is also not of the classic form, suggesting that the author may have incorporated material from another source. Could the reference be to the opening pericope of Genesis Rabbah? Taken as a whole, the Mashal is clumsy. The architectural metaphor of the Davar pre-empts the same in the Mashal, and the frustration in the Nimshal is not echoed in the Mashal. The Mashal of example (2) also begins with a theological proposition, and does not leave out the expected This is the text in Friedlander, Pirḳê deRabbi Eliezer, 254. Venice 1544 has simply “Sleep [Warsaw: awakening] in the morning is like the future world, as it is said, O satisfy us in the morning with Your loving kindness (Ps 90:14).” (PRE 34, 411/10–11) 24



concluding prooftext. One must also note that the elements of the Mashal are not balanced out in the accompanying Nimshal. The Mashal of example (3) shows yet further differences to the classic rabbinic Mashal. The Davar gives a theological statement, equating the resurrection of the dead with the world to come. The two-stage Mashal and Nimshal structure is in place, as is the concluding prooftext, but the content of the Mashal has collapsed into a few sentences. There is, then, a great deal of variety in the presentation of the Meshalim in Pirqe R. El. The Meshalim described above are all structured on a pattern that is reflective of the classic rabbinic style of the form: almost all contain a form of davar, Mashal, Nimshal, and concluding prooftext. The Meshalim are doubtlessly different in their expression when compared to the classic form, not least because of the differences in content and the subtleties of the Mashal form that are clearly absent from Pirqe R. El.’s uses of it. All eight of the Meshalim in Pirqe R. El. are problematic in one way or another, which is reflected in the textual instability of these forms in the manuscript transmission as scribes attempted to adjust and improve the Meshalim before them. Example (3) above illustrates the weaknesses in Pirqe R. El.’s use of the Mashal form—in this case, it has essentially collapsed back into a simple simile. The changes in the use and form of the Mashal in Pirqe R. El. show the development of the use of a classic small form in later Jewish composition, and suggest a gradual departure from the use of standardised small form structures towards more a flowing, discursive style of text.


What literary function do the small forms have within Pirqe R. El.? They could, theoretically speaking, contribute to its coherence. A certain degree of coherence could be created within a work by the constant repetition of a limited repertory of small forms. This arguably is true of many tractates of the Mishnah which in some cases can be deconstructed into a collection of small forms. This is also in whole or in large part true of many of the classic early Midrashim, as the analytical translations of Jacob Neusner show. Small forms cannot, however, create boundedness, since it is always possible in principle to add one more form from the repertory: boundedness can only be created at the thematic or the



macro-structural level by a bounded macro-structure. In the case of a Midrash, or related commentary-type text, this will normally be the limits of the Biblical sub-text on which it comments. Pirqe R. El. certainly uses a limited repertory of small forms, but their contribution to its coherence is virtually zero. The forms it uses, as we have seen, are all found in classic Midrash, but there is a fundamental difference: “the white space” between the forms in Pirqe R. El. is much more extensive than in the classic Midrashim. By “white space” I mean here stretches of text in common speech rather than cast in the rhetorical-formal structure that marks the small form. This indicates a distinctive shift in Pirqe R. El. towards discourse. From a literary point of view it is highly significant. It is found also in other Jewish works of the early Islamic period, such as the Tanna de-Vei Eliyyahu and, at its most developed, in Saadya’s Book of Beliefs and Opinions, in which the small forms of classic rabbinic literature have all but disappeared (apart from Bible-quotation in the form of proof-text, which is ubiquitous). This decisive shift towards continuous discourse in the early Islamic period would be compatible with a move towards predominantly written as opposed to oral communication. It may be related to a sharp up-swing in Jewish literacy, book ownership, and private reading. Pirqe R. El. was composed and written in the study to be read in the study. But why, then, does it bother with the old small forms, which are rooted in orality? The answer may be that they invoke a certain style—the style of the older Midrashim. They are essentially stylistic. They claim for Pirqe R. El. continuity with the older tradition of Midrash, though, as we have seen, Pirqe R. El.’s grasp of the older forms (such as the Mashal, and indeed the Petihah) is not totally ascertained. Thus even at the level of the small forms the innovative nature of Pirqe R. El. comes across. In the very act of attempting to assert its adherence to tradition it asserts its newness.



One of the most distinctive features of the Biblical commentaries of Rashbam (Rabbi Samuel b. Meir, c. 1080–c.1160) is their extensive reliance on inner-Biblical exegesis. In explaining a particular verse, Rashbam often cites other Biblical verses which, to his view, contribute to an understanding of the passage in question. Despite the centrality of this phenomenon in his works, Rashbam’s inner-Biblical exegesis has received scant scholarly attention. 1 * This is an amended and updated version of an article that first appeared in Hebrew: “Inner-Biblical Interpretation in Rashbam’s Commentary on Qoheleth,” Teshura Le-ʿAmos, Collected Studies in Biblical Exegesis Presented to ʿAmos Hakham, M. Bar-Asher, N. Hacham, and Y. Ofer (eds.), Alon-Shevut 2007, 71–84. 1 Scholars of Rashbam have noted his citation of verses, but have not examined the extent of the phenomenon, nor the types of verses




Elsewhere I have discussed Rashbam’s citation of verses in his commentary on the Pentateuch, with a division of these verses into different categories. 2 The focus of the present chapter will be the citation of verses in Rashbam’s commentary on Qohelet. First these verses will categorized in terms of their different purposes, and then these data will be compared with those pertaining to Rashbam’s commentary on the Pentateuch. There is some controversy concerning Rashbam’s authorship of the commentary on Qohelet, and we shall conclude by proposing the contribution that the present study offers for clarifying this question. For the sake of convenience we shall refer to the verse that Rashbam’s commentary seeks to explain as the “verse in question,” while additional verses that he cites in his explanation will be referred to as “verses cited.” 3


Rashbam’s commentary on Qohelet includes some eighty verses cited. An examination of the commentary reveals that there are involved. See, for example: Moshe Greenberg, “The Relation between the Commentaries of Rashi and Rashbam on the Torah,” Isaac Leo Seeligmann Volume—Essays on the Bible and the Ancient World, ii, A. Rofe and Y. Zakovitch (eds.), (Jerusalem, 1983), 566 (Heb); Sarah Kamin, Rashi’s Exegetical Categorization in Respect to the Distinction between Peshat and Derash (Jerusalem, 1986), 268 (Heb). Concerning the use of verses for linguistic clarification in the commentary on Qohelet, see The Commentary of Rashbam on Qoheleth, edited and translated by S. Japhet and R. Salters, Jerusalem 1985, 36 and n. 90. Gomes-Aranda mentions the citation of verses as a point of similarity between Rashbam’s commentary on Qohelet and that of Ibn Ezra; see: M. Gomes-Aranda, “Ibn Esra and Rashbam on Qohelet: Two Perspectives in Contrast,” Hebrew Studies 46 (2005), 235–258. 2 Jonathan Jacobs, “ ‘Extrapolating One Word from Another’— Rashbam as an Interpreter of the Bible on its Own Terms,” Shnaton—an Annual for Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Studies, 17 (2007), 215–231 (Heb). 3 All citations from Rashbam’s commentary on Qohelet are from the Japhet-Salters edition, Rashbam on Qoheleth (see above, n. 1).

EXEGESIS IN RASHBAM’S COMMENTARY ON QOHELET 169 different reasons motivating Rashbam to cite Biblical verses, and they may be categorized into three main groups:

1. Verses cited in support of Rashbam’s commentary on the verse in question. This group includes the majority of the verses cited (more than sixty), and may be divided further into two sub-groups (see below).

2. There are four instances in which the verse cited is just as difficult to understand, or even more so, than the verse in question. In these instances, Rashbam seeks to apply his innovative explanation of the verse in question to the verse cited. 3. There are eleven instances in which Rashbam cites a verse with a view to delineating literary units and parenthetical comments within the text of Qohelet. 4

There are two verses cited that do not fall into any of the above groups. The first is 2:3, s.v. “To cheer… with wine,” where Rashbam cites a verse in order to explain a contradiction between verses. This is the only instance where he points out a contradiction explicitly, although in many other places he resolves internal contradictions between different verses of the text of Qohelet without any explicit citation. For a discussion of Rashbam’s resolution of contradictions in Qohelet, see Japhet-Salters, Rashbam on Qoheleth, 63–68. The second verse that cannot be categorized into any of the above groups is 10:19, “For vanity they make bread,” where the contribution of the verse cited to the explanation of the verse in question is unclear. Prof. Yosef Ofer proposes a textual amendment which obviates the need for the verse cited: the two s.v.’s should be read as a continuous entry (see copy of manuscript), Japhet-Salters, Rashbam on Qoheleth, 233, line 17): ,‫ כמ' אשר יעשה את הכל‬.‫…והכסף בעשייה הקנייה ועיקר של מעשה‬ …‫שהלחם והיין קנוי בכסף‬ If this amendment is adopted then what we have before us is not the citation of a verse but rather a paraphrase, with Rashbam explaining, “And it is money that does everything.” For a discussion of the various exegetical possibilities with regard to this verse, including Rashbam’s interpretation, see Robert B. Salters, “Text and Exegesis in Koh 10 19,” ZAW 89 (1977), 423–426. 4




In the introduction to his book on grammar, Dayyaqut Merabbenu Shemuel, Rashbam proposes a way of explaining difficult words by drawing an analogy to verses that he cites to help clarify the exact meaning of the word or expression in question: ‫דרך קצרה יש לנו להורות לפני תועי בינה ללמוד תיבה‬ ‫ כשישגה המדקדק בדקדוק תיבה אחת… ידמה‬.‫מחברתה‬ ‫ וממנה יבין‬,‫לה תיבות הפשוטות לו ודומות לאותה תיבה‬ .‫משפט התיבה אשר ישגה לעמוד על אמתתה‬

“We have a quick way of establishing the meaning of one word on the basis of another. If the student is unsure of the meaning of a difficult word… he should compare it to a word that is close to it and similar, but more easily understood. The easier word will help him arrive at a proper understanding of the more difficult one.” 5

The above recommendation appears in a book on grammar, where Rashbam’s focus is naturally on grammatical problems. However, as I demonstrated in the above-mentioned article, 6 and as will be Dayyaqut MeRabbenu Shemuel [Ben Meir (Rashbam)], ed. Ronela Merdler (Jerusalem, 1999), 18 (Heb); emphasis mine. The importance that Rashbam attaches to analogy for the purposes of his commentary is proven from those instances where he finds no suitable verse to cite that would aid his interpretation, and he emphasizes that he is forced to explain the verse on the basis of the context alone. In his commentary on Qohelet he does so in two places: (10:1) ‫ פתרונו לפי עניינו שמזהים‬- ‫יביע‬ ‫“—ומקלקל השמן‬Its interpretation is according to its context, this is, it contaminates and spoils the oil”; and (12:12) ‫ פתרונו לפי עניינו דברי‬- ‫ולהג‬ ‫“—כתבי ספרים‬its interpretation is according to its context: the words of writers of books.” For a discussion of the phrase ‫ פתרונו לפי עניינו‬in Rashbam’s commentary on the Pentateuch, see Ezra Zion Melamed, Bible Commentators (Jerusalem, 1978), 479 (Heb) (whose list of instances is incomplete); Morris Bernard Berger, The Torah Commentary of Rabbi Samuel Ben Meir, Ph.D. diss., Harvard University, 1982, 53–55. 6 See above, n. 2. 5

EXEGESIS IN RASHBAM’S COMMENTARY ON QOHELET 171 shown below, Rashbam applies the same principle to the thematic and literary aspects of the text. 7 The verses cited in support of Rashbam’s interpretation of the verse in question may be divided into two sub-categories:

1. Verses containing a word or expression that is easy to understand, thereby aiding the understanding of the difficult word or expression appearing in the verse in question.

2. Verses describing a situation that is similar or identical to that depicted in the verse in question.

We shall now explain and examine examples of each of these two types. More than half of the verses cited in Rashbam’s commentary on Qohelet (approximately 45 verses) belong to the first sub-group. These instances share the following criteria:

1. The verse in question contains a difficult word or expression. The aim of the commentary is to solve the difficulty. The interpretation that Rashbam proposes makes sense on its own and does not necessitate the verse cited in support. 2. The verse cited contains a word or expression that is easy to understand, and that is similar to the word or expression that appears in the verse in question. The similar word that appears in the verse cited helps to explain the word that appears in the verse in question. 3. There is no thematic connection between the verse in question and the verse cited in support of its interpretation.

The following are some examples of verses cited that belong to this group. Verses cited with a view to explaining a difficult word: See also R. Merdler, Rabbi Samuel ben Meir (Rashbam) and Hebrew Grammar (Diss.) (Jerusalem, 1994), 70, 309 (Heb). 7


JONATHAN JACOBS .(‫ יח‬,‫ לשון עיף ויגיע )דב' כה‬- ‫ יגיעים‬:‫ ח‬,‫א‬

1:8 – ‫ – יגיעים‬The meaning is the same as in ‘faint and weary’ (Deut. 25:18).

'‫ תיקנתי לצורכי כמו ובן הבקר אשר עשה )בר‬- ‫ עשיתי לי‬:‫ ח‬,‫ב‬ .(‫ יב‬,‫ וכן ועשתה את ציפורניה )דב' כא‬.(‫ ח‬,‫יח‬ 2:8 – ‘I got’ – I prepared for my needs, as in, ‘and the calf which he had dressed’ (Gen. 18:8), and so in ‘and pare her nails’ (Deut. 21:12).

Verses cited to explain an expression whose meaning is unclear: ‫ רשעים בעודן בחייהם קוראן‬- ‫ רשעים קבורים‬:‫ י‬,‫ח‬ ‫ כעניין שנאמר ואתה‬.‫ לפי שהן ראויים למיתה‬,‫קבורים‬ .(‫ ל‬,‫חלל רשע נשיא ישראל )יח' כא‬

8:1 – “ ‘Wicked buried’: wicked men are called buried men while still alive, because they deserve death. The same thought is expressed in “And you, O Slain, wicked one, prince of Israel” (Ez. 21:25 (Heb. 30)).”

Rashbam grapples with the question of how a person who is alive can be described as being buried. The solution that he posits—that the wicked are defined as buried already during their lifetime—is supported by a verse that he cites which suggests that a wicked person is defined as dead even during his lifetime. Verses cited with a view to illustrating a stylistic or linguistic principle: ,‫ עדיין לא אמר רק תחילת מילה‬- ‫ הבל הבלים אמר‬:‫ ב‬,‫א‬ ‫ מקרא‬.‫וכופל לשונו לומר לכלול ולפרש דברו שהכל הבל‬ ‫ נשאו נהרות‬.(‫ א‬,‫זה דוגמת לא לנו ה' לא לנו )תה' קטו‬ ‫ כי הנה אויביך ה' כי הנה‬.(‫ ג‬,‫ה' נשאו נהרות )תה' צג‬ ‫ שפותח תחילה במילה ומזכיר את‬.(‫ י‬,‫אויביך )תה' צב‬ ‫השם מחמת שהוא להוט להזכיר את השם ומזכירו בתוך‬ …‫ ואחרי כן מתחיל בה לפרשה‬.‫מילתו‬ 1:2 – “ ‘Vanity of vanities, says’: as yet he has said nothing except the beginning of a statement; and he repeats his words in order to express his message as a general rule, and to state clearly that everything is empty. This verse is like: “Not to us, O Lord, not to us” (Ps. 115:1); “The floods have lifted up, O Lord, the floods have lifted up” (Ps. 93:3);

EXEGESIS IN RASHBAM’S COMMENTARY ON QOHELET 173 “For lo, Your enemies, O Lord, for lo, Your enemies” (Ps. 92:9) (Heb. 10)), where (the author) first begins a statement and mentions the name, because he is eager to mention the Name, mentioning it within his statement, and then he begins his statement again in order to state it clearly.” 8

‫ הפסד גדול הוא זה שימות החכם עם‬- ‫ ואיך ימות‬:‫ טז‬,‫ב‬ ‫ כמו‬.‫ הוא דבר המתקיים‬,‫ בכל מקום שנאמר איך‬.‫הכסיל‬ ‫ איך נהפכת לי סורי‬.(‫ מא‬,‫ כג; נא‬,‫איך היתה לשמה )יר' נ‬ .(‫ כא‬,‫הגפן נכרייה )יר' ב‬

2:16 – “ ‘How… dies’: this is a great waste, that the wise man should die with the fool. In every place where ‫איך‬ occurs it is a rhetorical statement, as in “How (Babylon) has become a horror” (Jer. 50:23; 51:41), “How then have you turned degenerate and become a wild vine” (Jer. 2:21).” 9

In one instance Rashbam actually articulates the difficulty that he is addressing, and the way in which the verse cited helps to resolve the difficulty: 290F

‫ טוב ומשובח שם טוב של אדם‬- ‫ טוב שם משמן טוב‬:‫ א‬,‫ז‬ ‫ לפי שמצינו‬,‫יותר משמן טוב של אפרסמון שריחו נודף‬ ,‫במקום אחד מקרא מלא שהמשיל והזכיר שם לשמן טוב‬ ‫ ואל תתמה על‬,(‫ ג‬,‫שנאמר שמן תורק שמך )שה"ש א‬ .‫אשר נמשלו והוזכרו שניהם במקרא זה יחד‬

7:1 – “ ‘A good name is better than precious ointment’: much better is a man’s good reputation than the good oil of the balsam tree, whose fragrance spreads; for we find in one place an explicit text which mentions (both) and compares reputation with good oil, “your name is oil poured out” (Song of Songs 1:3), so do not be surprised For a discussion of these verses see Japhet-Salters, Rashbam on Qoheleth, 23–24, 39 and n. 97. 9 Further examples of verses cited with a view to illustrating linguistic or stylistic phenomena include 3:16, s.v. “even there was wickedness”; 7:19, s.v. “more than ten rulers”; 9:1, s.v. “whether it is love or hate.” 8


JONATHAN JACOBS at both being mentioned together and compared in this verse.”

In contrast to the previous group of verses, when it comes to those belonging to the second sub-group the verse cited does not contain the same word or linguistic phenomenon that appears in the verse in question. In this group Rashbam explains the verse in a certain way, and then cites verses that describe a similar or identical situation. This group includes 15 verses cited. 10 These verses share the following criteria: 1. The verse in question describes a situation that requires some explanation, and a clarification of the situation.

2. A verse cited in which there is a similar or identical situation. There need not necessarily be any linguistic or stylistic connection between the verse cited and the verse in question.

The following are some examples of this type: ‫ שהרי לאדם שהוא טוב לפני‬- ‫ כי לאדם שטוב לפניו‬:‫ כו‬,‫ב‬ ‫ ולאדם‬.‫הק' כמני נתן הק' מזל לאסוף ממון לצורכו ולהנאתו‬ ‫חוטא נתן הק' עיניין לאסוף ממון לצורך אחר שהוא טוב‬ .(‫ יז‬,‫ דוגמת יכין רשע וצדיק ילבש )איוב כז‬.‫בעיניו‬ 2:26 – “For to the man who pleases him: for to the man who is good before the Holy One, like me, the Holy One has given luck to accumulate money for his needs and pleasure; but to the sinner the Holy One has given the task of accumulating money for the sake of another who is good in his eyes, like ‘the wicked man may pile it up, but the just will wear it’ (Job 27:17).”

In many instances (8 out of 15) the verse cited is also from Qohelet. Sara Japhet, “The Commentary of R. Samuel Ben Meir to Qohelet,” Tarbiz 44 (1974), 77 (Heb), indicates internal allusions to Qohelet within Rashbam's commentary, but fails to delineate the full extent of the phenomenon and the fact that in some instances the allusions are to verses that appear outside of Qohelet. 10

EXEGESIS IN RASHBAM’S COMMENTARY ON QOHELET 175 ‫ שמור את רגלך שתלך בטהרה ובנקיות‬- ‫ שמור רגלך‬:‫ יז‬,‫ד‬ ‫ובענוה וגם תלך יחף כאשר תלך לדרוש אלהים להתפלל‬ ‫ כעניין שנאמר של נעליך מעל רגליך כי‬.‫בבית המקדש‬ .(‫ ה‬,‫המקום וגו' )שמ' ג‬ 4:17 – “ ‘Guard your steps’: watch your foot that you may walk in purity, in cleanliness and in humility. You should also go barefoot when you go to seek God, to pray in the Temple, as it is said: “Put off your shoes from your feet, for the place etc.” (Ex. 3:5).”

‫ שהרי חלום זה שאדם חולם בלילה‬- ‫ כי בא החלום‬:‫ ב‬,‫ה‬ ‫ וזהו שנאמר‬.‫ברוב עינייניו ומנהגיו שהוא מחשב ביום הוא‬ .(‫ כט‬,‫ורעיוני לבך על משכבך סליק )דנ' ב‬ 5:2 – “ ‘For a dream comes’: for this dream which a man dreams at night is due to his many transactions and ways which he thinks about during the day; this is what is said: “As you lay in bed came thoughts” (Dan. 2:29)…”

The question is why there is any need for these verses cited, and how they contribute to Rashbam’s interpretation of the verses in question. It would seem to me that a review of the above examples shows that in many cases Rashbam interprets the situation described in the verses cited using extraneous data that do not necessarily arise from the plain meaning of the text. In these instances Rashbam relies on the citation of a verse that contains the data missing from the verse in question. In the first example, Rashbam adds the idea that collecting the money of the wicked person is meant to serve the needs of the righteous—a detail that is not stated explicitly in the verse in question, but does appear in the verse cited. In the second example, Rashbam adds the recommendation, “you should also go barefoot…,” which is not stated in the verse in question, but appears explicitly in the verse cited. In the third example, Rashbam provides an interesting psychological explanation for the source of a person’s dreams, an idea expressed more directly in the verse



cited than it is in the verse in question. A similar situation exists in other places as well. 11 Rashbam does not generally introduce data into his commentaries that do not arise directly from the verses in question. He therefore relies on the contexts mentioned in the verses cited to lend support to his interpretation. We might illustrate this interesting phenomenon with two further verses cited. In the verses that follow there is no textual difficulty and it is not clear why Rashbam invokes the verses cited as support. To my mind, Rashbam’s commentary adds a word that is not explicitly stated in the text. In order to support his interpretation, he cites a relevant verse in which the word that he added does appear. ‫ דעתו של מושל ושליט השולט עליך אשר‬- ‫אם רוח המושל‬ ‫ אל תניח מקומך ולא תברח משם‬.‫ישים לך עלילות דברים‬ ‫ שתפייסהו בפייוס דבריך‬.‫ שהרי מרפא לשונך‬.‫מחמת יראתו‬ ‫אשר תתחנן לפניו יגרומו שהוא יניח חטאים גדולים אשר‬ .‫חטאת לו ולא ישים לך עוד עלילות דברים‬ .(‫ יח‬,‫ דוגמת ולשון חכמים מרפא )מש' יב‬- ‫מרפא‬ 10:4 – “ ‘If the anger of the ruler’: the temperament of a ruler, the governor who rules over you—if he should bring false charges against you, do not leave your place and do

See: 2:23; 5:11, s.v. “the surfeit of the rich”: Rashbam adds the reason for the sleepnessness of the rich (concerning the relationship between these two verses see Japhet, “Rashbam to Qohelet,” 77); 5:1— Rashbam adds ‘a lot of words’; 5:6, s.v. “for when dreams increase”— Rashbam adds, ‫ ;הולכים ונאבדים בני אדם מן העולם‬7:19, s.v. “Wisdom gives strength to the wise man”—Rashbam adds, ‫ ;לשמור את עירו‬12:2, s.v. “and the clouds return”—Rashbam adds the connection between clouds and darkness; 12:4, s.v. “brought low”—Rashbam adds ‫שרים ושרות‬. In three instances I have not been able to identify what is contributed by the verse cited: 6:5, s.v. “it has not seen the sun”; 8:6, s.v. “For every matter has its time”; 10:10, s.v. “If the iron is blunt.” In this last example Rashbam himself states that the verse in question and the verse cited convey a similar message without any addition: ‫מקרא זה כפול‬ ‫“ הוא על שנאמר למעלה‬This verse is parallel to what is said above …” 11

EXEGESIS IN RASHBAM’S COMMENTARY ON QOHELET 177 not flee from there for fear of him. Because the soothing of your tongue—for you will appease him by your conciliatory words which you will use to entreat him—will cause him to remit great sins which you have committed against him, and he shall no more bring false accusations against you. ‫מרפא‬: like in ‫( ולשון חכמים מרפא‬Prov. 12:18).

The verse does not make clear what sort of “soothing” will cause the ruler “to remit great sins.” Rashbam’s innovation is that the ruler’s ire is soothed by words: “Because the soothing of your tongue …” This is not stated in the verse, and therefore Rashbam cites a verse in which the connection between the tongue and soothing is explicit. ‫ט ולא יסיע ולא יזיז אבנים גדולות לפי שהוא נעצב‬:‫י‬ …‫בעצבון‬ .(‫ לא‬,‫ דוגמת ויסיעו אבנים גדולות )מל"א ה‬- ‫מסיע אבנים‬ 10:9 – “ ‘He who quarries stones is hurt by them’: He should neither move nor remove large stones, because he will hurt himself with the effort…

He who quarries stones: like “they quarried out great… stones” (I Kings 5:17 (Heb. 31)).”

The verse does not explain what “hurt” is involved in quarrying stones. Rashbam explains that injury comes from moving large stones. Since this detail does not appear in the verse, Rashbam cites another verse that connects quarrying with large stones. As noted, in both of the above instances the role of the verse cited is unclear, unless we take note of the additional detail that Rashbam adds to the verse in question.


In the examples we have examined so far, the verse cited is easier to understand than the verse in question, and thus it serves as an aid to the commentary. In my article mentioned previously, 12 I note 12

Above, n. 2.



a large group of verses cited in Rashbam’s commentary on the Pentatech in which we find the opposite situation: the verse in question is easier to understand than the verse cited, or both share the same level of textual difficulty, and Rashbam’s aim in citing the additional verse is to apply to it his innovative interpretation of the verse in question. It can be shown that Rashbam adopts a consistent terminology to differentiate between the different categories of verses cited: for verses of the first type he uses the term ‫“( כמו‬like”) or ‫“( כדכתיב‬as it is written”), whereas for those of the second type he usually uses the term ‫“( וכן‬and likewise”). 13 Amongst the vast array of verses cited in his commentary on the Pentateuch there are instances where it is quite clear that Rashbam himself views the verse cited as being more difficult to understand than the verse in question, and these are set forth in my article. Amongst the much smaller scope of verses cited in the commentary on Qohelet, there is nowhere that this awareness is expressed unequivocally. In this commentary Rashbam uses the term ‫ וכן‬six times. On four of these occasions the verse cited is either more difficult, or as difficult, to understand as the verse in question, and Rashbam cites it with a view to applying his innovative interpretation of the verse in question, to this verse too. 14 294F

‫ וכן דעת מה יעשה ישראל )דה"א‬.‫ כמו ולדעת‬- ‫ ודעת‬:‫ יז‬,‫א‬ .‫ כמו לדעת‬, 15(‫ לג‬,‫יב‬ 1:17 – “ ‘And know’: is like ‘and to know’, and likewise in “to know what Israel ought to do” (I Chr. 12:32 (Heb. 33)), which is like ‘to know’.”

See my article, “Inner-Biblical Exegesis in the Commentary of Rashbam on the Bible—Rashbam’s Terminology in Referring to a Cited Verse,” REJ 168 (2009), 463–480. 14 The two other appearances of ‫( וכן‬2:2; 2:8) come after a different verse has already been introduced by ‫כמו‬. Hence, they belong to the first group, since the meaning here is in fact ‫וכן כמו‬. 15 Rashbam’s manuscript would appear to have differed here from the Masoretic text, which reads ‫לדעת‬. 13

EXEGESIS IN RASHBAM’S COMMENTARY ON QOHELET 179 .(‫ טז‬,‫ וכן אי לך ארץ שמלכך נער )י‬.‫ כמו אוי לו‬- ‫ ואילו‬:‫ י‬,‫ד‬ .‫ופתרונו אוי לך ארץ‬ 4:10 – “‫ואילו‬: like ‫אוי לו‬, and likewise ‫אי לך ארץ שמלכך נער‬ (10:16) whose interpretation is “Woe (‫ )אוי‬to you, O land.””

‫ ח( כמו‬,‫ וכן לא תעבוּרי )רות ב‬.‫ כמו תבואה‬- ‫ תבוּאה‬:‫ ט‬,‫ה‬ ‫ ג( כמו‬,‫ וכן תשמוּרם בספר משלי )מש' יד‬.‫לא תעבורי‬ .‫תשמורם‬ 5:9 – “ ‘‫’תבוּאה‬: the same as ‫תבואה‬, and likewise ‫לא‬ ‫( תעבוּרי‬Ruth 2:8) is like ‫לא תעבורי‬, and likewise ‫ תשמוּרם‬in the book of Proverbs (14:3) is like ‫תשמורם‬.”

‫ מקרא קצר הוא ודבוק הוא על תיבה החסירה‬- ‫ מאת‬:‫ יב‬,‫ח‬ ‫ ולא אחז בלשונו מאת לדקדק‬.‫לומר מאת ימים או שנים‬ ,‫ וכן ושכורת לא מיין )יש' נא‬.‫מלתו כי אם לומר זמן גדול‬ ‫ שכורת דבר אחר ולא‬.‫ דבוק הוא על תיבה החסירה‬.(‫כא‬ .‫מיין‬ 8:12 – “ ‘a hundred’: the text is elliptical; it is in the construct state and the Nomen Regens is missing, as if to say ‘a hundred days’ or ‘a hundred years’. And he does not use the word ‘hundred’ literally, but rather to express a long time. And likewise ‫( ושכורת לא מיין‬Is. 51:21) where ‫שכורת‬ is in the construct state and the Nomen Regens is missing; (it means) ‘drink with some other affliction, but not with wine’.”

In all of these instances, Rashbam is actually explaining the verse cited—which is not usually the purpose of him citing verses in his commentary. We may assume that his reason for adding the explanation is that he views these cited verses as more difficult to understand than the verses he is treating in the commentary, and he explains his innovative understanding of them.


Having discussed the verses that Rashbam cites with a view to explaining difficult words, expressions, or literary phenomena, we shall now examine a third group of verses cited for completely different reasons. Rashbam’s commentary on Qohelet excels in that beyond explanations of words in the text, it sometimes



illuminates the internal structure of the Book of Qohelet, by delineating the literary units comprising it. 16 This aim is achieved, inter alia, by means of references to verses cited. In some instances the verses cited help to create a closed literary unit. In other instances the verses cited indicate what Rashbam views as parenthetical comments within the text. Let us examine some examples of each type. To Rashbam’s view, the first two verses of the Book were not written by Qohelet. 17 The first verse uttered by Qohelet, then, is 1:3, and here Rashbam writes: ‫ כל הדברים הללו מוסבים למטה על אין טוב‬- ‫מה יתרון‬ ‫ כד( לומר כל אילו מעשי האדם‬,‫באדם שיאכל ושתה וג' )ב‬ ‫ ואין טוב מעשה להנאת האדם רק לשתות ולשמוח‬,‫הבל הם‬ .‫בחלקו‬ “ ‘What… gain’: all these words refer to (the statement) below: “there is nothing better for a man than that he should eat and drink etc.” (2:24), which is to say that all this human endeavor is futile and there is nothing good for a man to do for his enjoyment except to drink and to be happy with his lot.”

By referring to the verse cited (2:24), Rashbam creates a closed literary unit that extends from 1:3 to 2:26. 18 Within this literary unit Rashbam refers to the same verse (1:3) no less than five times: See Japhet-Salters, Rashbam on Qoheleth, 48–49; Nava Cohen, “ ‘There is nothing worthwhile for a man but to eat and drink and afford himself enjoyment with his means’—Material Pleasure in the Commentary Attributed to Rashbam on the Book of Kohelet,” Massekhet 2 (2004), 155– 156 (Heb). 17 ‫ לא אמרן קהלת כי אם‬,‫ דברי קהלת הבל הבלים‬,‫שתי מקראות הללו‬ .‫אותו שסידר הדברים כמות שהן‬ “These two verses, “The words of Qoheleth,” “Vanity of vanities,” were not said by Qohelet but by the person who edited the words as they stand.” (1:2) See Japhet, Rashbam to Qohelet, 75 and n. 17; Japhet-Salters, Rashbam on Qoheleth, 34–35; Cohen, “Material Pleasure,” 155 and n. 8. 16

EXEGESIS IN RASHBAM’S COMMENTARY ON QOHELET 181 ‫ וכן חוזר וסובב חלילה‬- ‫ ועל סביבותיו שב הרוח‬:‫ ו‬,‫א‬ ‫לעולם בכל היקיפותיו וסיבוביו שהוא שב והולך בכל‬ ‫ אבל אדם היום כאן ומחר בקבר ומעשיו‬.‫הרוחות שבעולם‬ ,‫ על כן נאמר מה יתרון לאדם )א‬.‫נפסקין שלא יזכר עוד‬ .(‫ג‬

1:6 – “ ‘and on its circuits the wind returns’: thus forever it is repeatedly circling round in all its circuits, in that it continually travels all the points of the compass. But man is here today and in the grave tomorrow; all that he does stops, and he is remembered no more. Therefore it is said, “What does man gain” (1:3).”

‫ גם למחר הם שבים והולכים אל‬- ‫ שם הם שבים ללכת‬:‫ ז‬,‫א‬ ‫ אבל אדם מניח‬.‫הים שלא יניחו הנחלים מנהגן ומרוצתן‬ ‫ הכל מוסב על מה יתרון‬.‫מנהגו ווסתו להיות בטל מעולמו‬ .(‫ ג‬,‫)א‬ 1:7 – “ ‘there they flow again’: also tomorrow they continue to flow into the sea; for rivers do not abandon their habit and their flowing, but man abandons his habit and his ways in that he passes from the world. Everything is related to “What… gain” (1:30).

,‫ מוסב על מה יתרון לאדם )א‬- ‫ אין זכרון לראשונים‬:‫ יא‬,‫א‬ .(‫ג‬ 1:11 – “ ‘There is no remembrance of former ones’: this is related to “what does man gain” (1:3).

‫ לתת לבי בכל המעשים האלה ומצאתים‬- ‫ ופניתי אני‬:‫ יא‬,‫ב‬ ‫ וזהו שנאמר למעלה מה יתרון לאדם בכל עמלו‬.‫כולם הבל‬ .(‫ ג‬,‫וגו' )א‬

Concerning this literary unit see Cohen, “Material Pleasure,” 156– 157; Japhet-Salters, Rashbam on Qoheleth, 49–51. Verses 25–26 are a direct continuation of verse 24. It should be noted that in two other places (3:12; 5:17) Rashbam refers to the same verse cited. 18


JONATHAN JACOBS 2:11 – “ ‘And I turned’: to consider all these deeds, but I found them all empty. And that is what is said above, “What does man gain by all the toil etc.” (1:3).

.(‫ ג‬,‫ ועל כן נאמר מה יתרון לאדם )א‬- ‫ שגם זה הבל‬:‫ טו‬,‫ב‬

2:15 – “ ‘that this also is vanity’: and therefore it is said: “What does man gain” (1:3).

This five-fold reference to the verse cited indicates Rashbam’s perception of it as the central subject of the unit. To his view, this verse, which introduces the literary unit, is then elaborated upon, up until the concluding verse where it summarizes the idea behind the unit as a whole. 19 Let us consider another example of the delineation of a literary unit by means of references to a verse cited. Rashbam comments on the verse, “I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live” (3:12), as follows: ‫ בכל העתים ובכל המעשים הללו כזה כי אם‬- ‫כי אין טוב‬ ,‫ זהו שנאמר אין טוב באדם שיאכל ושתה וג' )ב‬.'‫לשמוח וג‬ .(‫כד‬ “ ‘that there is nothing better’: in all these times and events than this: “than to be happy etc.” This is what has been said: “There is nothing better for a man than that he should eat and drink etc.” (2:24).

Rashbam maintains that this verse repeats the same conclusion that had already been drawn in the verse cited (2:24)—that it is best that a person rejoice in what he has. The purpose of all the verses in between (i.e., from 2:25 until 3:11, including the “song of the seasons”) is to prove and substantiate this conclusion. Thus, this literary unit is shown to have a framework, within which there is a list of proofs. It should be noted that Rashbam detects another sub-unit within this literary unit: see his commentary on 2:9–11, s.v. “also my wisdom.” 19

EXEGESIS IN RASHBAM’S COMMENTARY ON QOHELET 183 I have found four instances in which Rashbam uses a verse cited to indicate a parenthetical comment in between verses that are connected to one another. In each instance his commentary uses the expression ‫“( מוסב על‬related to”). The classic example is the “song of the seasons” (3:1–8), which, to Rashbam’s view, is a parenthetical section, with the verse, “What gain has the worker from his toil?” (3:9) following on as a direct continuation from, “but to the sinner he gives the work of gathering and heaping” (2:26). He writes as follows: ‫ מוסב על ולחוטא נתן עיניין לאסוף‬- ‫ מה יתרון העושה‬:‫ ט‬,‫ג‬ ‫ לומר אחרי שעתות לטובה ועתים לרעה וגם לחוטא‬.(‫ כו‬,‫)ב‬ ‫ ועת שהוא יוצא מידו לתת אותו‬,‫זה עת שהוא אוסף ממון‬ ‫ מה יתרון האוסף באשר הוא עמל וטורח‬.‫לאדם שהוא טוב‬ .‫בממון זה אחרי שהוא יוצא מידו‬ 3:9 – “ ‘What gain has the worker’: this is related to “but to the sinner he gives the work of gathering” (2:26) so as to say: since there are times for good and times for evil, and also for this sinner there is a time when he is gathering money, and a time when he loses possession of it to give it to the man who is good, what advantage has the one who gathers it in that he toils and troubles himself about this money, since he loses possession of it.”

Another example: To Rashbam’s understanding, the verse, “All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again” (3:20) is a parenthetical statement that intervenes between two verses that are connected to one another: 3:19 and 3:21. He writes: ‫ לומר על‬.(‫ יט‬,‫ מוסב על ורוח אחד לכל )ג‬- ‫ ומי יודע‬:‫ כא‬,‫ג‬ ‫כן אני אומר רוח אחד לשניהם כי מי הוא שיודע שרוח‬ ‫ ועל ]כן[ אני‬.‫האדם עולה למעלה ורוח הבהמה יורדת למטה‬ ‫ כי מה יתרון לאדם יותר מן‬.‫אומר רוח אחד להם והכל הבל‬ .‫הבהמה‬ 3:21 – “ ‘Who knows’: is related to “and they all have the same breath” (3:19), as if to say: Therefore I say that both have the same spirit, because who knows that the spirit of


JONATHAN JACOBS man goes upwards and the spirit of the beast goes downwards. This is why I say that they have the same spirit and that everything is futile, for what advantage has man over beast?” 20


Scholars are divided as to the reliability of the attribution of the commentary on Qohelet to Rashbam. 21 The main points raised in support of his authorship are the integrity of the commentary; links between the commentary on Qohelet and Rashbam’s other commentaries; and the similarity between them in terms of exegetical principles and details. The main points against the attribution of the commentary to Rashbam include contradictions between this work and Rashbam’s commentary on the Pentateuch; a lack of uniformity in the terminology and style; and the appearance of midrashic interpretations that are not suited to Rashbam’s thinking. A most significant point of difference between the commentary on Qohelet and Rashbam’s commentary on the Pentateuch, to which scholars have not paid sufficient attention, is The other instances are: 7:5–6 as a parenthetical unit—see Rashbam’s commentary on 7:7; and 7:26–8:9 as a parenthetical unit—see Rashbam’s commentary on 8:10. Japhet notes two of these examples; see Japhet, “Rashbam to Qohelet,” 80–81 and n. 46; Japhet-Salters, Rashbam on Qoheleth, 49–51. 21 The most recent scholars to discuss the controversy are Sara Japhet and Abraham Grossman. A review of the history of the research in this regard may be found in their publications: Japhet, “Rashbam to Qohelet,” 72–74, 84–94; Sara Japhet, “The Commentary of R. Samuel Ben Meir to Qohelet,” Tarbiz 47 (1978), 243–246 (Heb); Japhet-Salters, Rashbam on Qoheleth, 19–33; Abraham Grossman, “The Commentary to Ecclesiastes Attributed to R. Samuel Ben Meir,” Tarbiz 45 (1976), 336– 340 (Heb); Abraham Grossman, “The Commentary of R. Samuel Ben Meir to Qohelet Once Again,” Tarbiz 48 (1979), 172 (Heb). 20

EXEGESIS IN RASHBAM’S COMMENTARY ON QOHELET 185 the fact that the commentary on Qohelet is built almost entirely on the technique of paraphrasing, 22 while in his commentary on the Pentateuch this is almost non-existent. To date, there has been no scholarly comparison of the innerBiblical exegesis manifest in Rashbam’s commentary on the Pentateuch, with the parallel phenomenon in the commentary on Qohelet. Such a comparison should be made both on the quantitative level and in a comparison of the categories of verses cited. 23 A comparison of the volume of verses cited shows a significant gap. Rashbam’s commentary on the Pentateuch is crammed with verses cited. A scholar of Rashbam puts it thus: “Sometimes there is such extensive comparison of Biblical passages that his commentary assumes the nature of a mosaic of verses.” 24 The same cannot be said of the commentary on Qohelet: it includes verses cited, but on a much smaller scale. With regard to the types of verses cited, too, there are differences. In Rashbam’s commentary on the Pentateuch, there are three main categories of verses cited: 1. Verses cited that aid in clarification of the verses in question (approximately 500 instances)

2. Verses cited in which Rashbam applies the interpretation that he offers for the verse in question (approx. 90 instances)

Japhet-Salters, Rashbam on Qoheleth, 36. It should be noted that in Rashbam’s commentary on Job, too, the “commentary through paraphrase” is ubiquitous; see Sara Japhet, The Commentary of Rashbam on the Book of Job (Jerusalem, 2000), 111–119 (Heb). 23 The data concerning verses cited in Rashbam’s commentary on the Pentateuch are taken from my above-mentioned article (above, n. 2). 24 Moshe Greenberg, “Rashbam,” Jewish Bible Exegesis—An Introduction, Moshe Greenberg (ed.) (Jerusalem, 1983), 78 (Heb). 22


JONATHAN JACOBS 3. Verses cited that are thematically connected with the verses in question, or shed new light on them, or prove Rashbam’s interpretation of them (approx. 190 instances).

In the commentary on Qohelet, too, most of the verses cited belong to the first group (60 instances), and I found a few verses cited that belong to the second group (four instances). The real difference between Rashbam’s commentary on the Pentateuch and the commentary on Qohelet lies in the rest of the verses cited. The third group of verses cited in the commentary on the Pentateuch is non-existent in Qohelet. Instead, there is a different group of verses cited (as discussed above): verses cited that help to create a literary framework. 25 This phenomenon is almost non-existent in Rashbam’s commentary on the Pentateuch. The differences in the quantity and categories of verses cited, and the other differences set forth above, may be explained in three different ways: 1. It is possible that the commentaries were written by two different scholars, possibly sharing the same general exegetical approach.

2. It is possible that they were written by the same commentator during different periods of his work. 3. It is possible that the disparities arise from the different nature of the works addressed by the commentaries. 26

I am not in favor of the first possibility, owing to the prominent similarities between the two commentaries in terms of the use of verses cited, as set forth above. These similarities would seem to be more extensive and more significant than the differences discussed above. If we add to this Japhet’s convincing proofs as to the A small number of verses cited for this purpose are to be found in the commentary on the Pentateuch. See, for example, Deut. 8:20; 33:1. 26 Similar possibilities are suggested by Japhet concerning the commentary on Job; see Japhet, Rashbam on Job, 100. 25

EXEGESIS IN RASHBAM’S COMMENTARY ON QOHELET 187 integrity of the commentary on Qohelet and other similarities between the two, the evidence appears strongly in favor of common authorship. Of the two remaining explanations, I tend to prefer the latter. It is quite reasonable to posit that the differences between the commentaries reflect the exegetical flexibility of a commentator who is able to adapt his style of interpretation to the text in question. As stated, the third category of verses cited in the commentary on the Pentateuch is characterized by the common content or theme shared by the verse in question and the verse cited. 27 In this group we find many instances of a verse cited that is a continuation of the same subject, or the same issue, treated by the verse in question, and in general the verse cited appears in close proximity to it. In other instances they are parallel units (such as the units discussing the vessels of the Sanctuary, Jacob’s blessings vs. Moses’ blessings, etc.)—each, to Rashbam’s view, shedding light on the other. This category of verses cited is more relevant to a commentary on the Pentateuch than it is to the commentary on Qohelet, where it is difficult to identify parallel units owing to the relatively limited scope of the Book. On the other hand, as mentioned above, the author of the commentary on Qohelet does devote attention to the structure of the Book, and therefore employs verses cited to help mold internal literary structures. Perhaps the focus on literary structures is of lesser significance in the context of the Pentateuch, which naturally comprises narrative and legal units. In summary, an examination of the inner-Biblical exegesis in Rashbam’s commentary on Qohelet reveals the diverse ways in which Rashbam makes use of verses cited. A comparison of the use of verses cited in his commentary on the Pentateuch with their use in the commentary on Qohelet would appear to add a further



This connection does not exist in the first two groups of verses



consideration in support of those maintaining that the same scholar is the source of both commentaries. 28

One question that still remains unanswered is that of precedence. Japhet (Japhet-Salters, Rashbam on Qoheleth, 23) hints that the commentary on Qohelet preceded the commentary on the Pentateuch. The fact that in Qohelet we find fewer verses cited belonging to the first two groups, in relation to the commentary on the Pentateuch, may lend support to this view. It seems that when composing his commentary on the Pentateuch Rashbam was already proficient in the use of verses cited, and this explains how his commentary on the Pentateuch comes to resemble a “mosaic of verses.” Nevertheless, there is no decisive answer to the question. 28