University of Pennsylvania Press

Divinations: Rereading Late Ancient Religion

Series Editors: Daniel Boyarin, Virginia Burrus, Derek Krueger

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

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Divinations: Rereading Late Ancient Religion

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The Memory of the Temple and the Making of the Rabbis

By Naftali S. Cohn

When the rabbis composed the Mishnah in the late second or early third century C.E., the Jerusalem Temple had been destroyed for more then a century. Why, then, do the Temple and its ritual feature so prominently in the Mishnah? Against the view that the rabbis were reacting directly to the destruction and asserting that nothing had changed, Naftali S. Cohn argues that the memory of the Temple served a political function for the rabbis in their own time. They described the Temple and its ritual in a unique way that helped to establish their authority within the context of Roman dominance.

At the time the Mishnah was created, the rabbis were not the only ones talking extensively about the Temple: other Judaeans (including followers of Jesus), Christians, and even Roman emperors produced texts and other cultural artifacts centered on the Jerusalem Temple. Looking back at the procedures of Temple ritual, the rabbis created in the Mishnah a past and a Temple in their own image, which lent legitimacy to their claim to be the only authentic purveyors of Jewish tradition and the traditional Jewish way of life. Seizing on the Temple, they sought to establish and consolidate their own position of importance within the complex social and religious landscape of Jewish society in Roman Palestine.

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Monastic Bodies

Discipline and Salvation in Shenoute of Atripe

By Caroline T. Schroeder

Shenoute of Atripe led the White Monastery, a community of several thousand male and female Coptic monks in Upper Egypt, between approximately 395 and 465 C.E. Shenoute's letters, sermons, and treatises—one of the most detailed bodies of writing to survive from any early monastery—provide an unparalleled resource for the study of early Christian monasticism and asceticism.

In Monastic Bodies, Caroline Schroeder offers an in-depth examination of the asceticism practiced at the White Monastery using diverse sources, including monastic rules, theological treatises, sermons, and material culture. Schroeder details Shenoute's arduous disciplinary code and philosophical structure, including the belief that individual sin corrupted not only the individual body but the entire "corporate body" of the community. Thus the purity of the community ultimately depended upon the integrity of each individual monk.

Shenoute's ascetic discourse focused on purity of the body, but he categorized as impure not only activities such as sex but any disobedience and other more general transgressions. Shenoute emphasized the important practices of discipline, or askesis, in achieving this purity. Contextualizing Shenoute within the wider debates about asceticism, sexuality, and heresy that characterized late antiquity, Schroeder compares his views on bodily discipline, monastic punishments, the resurrection of the body, the incarnation of Christ, and monastic authority with those of figures such as Cyril of Alexandria, Paulinus of Nola, and Pachomius.

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Muhammad Is Not the Father of Any of Your Men

The Making of the Last Prophet

By David S. Powers

The Islamic claim to supersede Judaism and Christianity is embodied in the theological assertion that the office of prophecy is hereditary but that the line of descent ends with Muhammad, who is the seal, or last, of the prophets.

While Muhammad had no natural sons who reached the age of maturity, he is said to have adopted a man named Zayd, and mutual rights of inheritance were created between the two. Zayd b. Muhammad, also known as the Beloved of the Messenger of God, was the first adult male to become a Muslim and the only Muslim apart from Muhammad to be named in the Qur'an. But if prophecy is hereditary and Muhammad has a son, David Powers argues, then he might not be the Last Prophet. Conversely, if he is the Last Prophet, he cannot have a son.

In Muhammad Is Not the Father of Any of Your Men, Powers contends that a series of radical moves were made in the first two centuries of Islamic history to ensure Muhammad's position as the Last Prophet. He focuses on narrative accounts of Muhammad's repudiation of Zayd, of his marriage to Zayd's former wife, and of Zayd's martyrdom in battle against the Byzantines. Powers argues that theological imperatives drove changes in the historical record and led to the abolition or reform of key legal institutions. In what is likely to be the most controversial aspect of his book, he offers compelling physical evidence that the text of the Qur'an itself was altered.

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Narrating the Law

A Poetics of Talmudic Legal Stories

By Barry Scott Wimpfheimer

In Narrating the Law Barry Scott Wimpfheimer creates a new theoretical framework for considering the relationship between law and narrative and models a new method for studying talmudic law in particular.

Works of law, including the Talmud, are animated by a desire to create clear usable precedent. This animating impulse toward clarity is generally absent in narratives, the form of which is better able to capture the subtleties of lived life. Wimpfheimer proposes to make these different forms compatible by constructing a narrative-based law that considers law as one of several "languages," along with politics, ethics, psychology, and others that together compose culture. A narrative-based law is capable of recognizing the limitations of theoretical statutes and the degree to which other cultural languages interact with legal discourse, complicating any attempts to actualize a hypothetical set of rules. This way of considering law strongly resists the divide in traditional Jewish learning between legal literature (Halakhah) and nonlegal literature (Aggadah) by suggesting the possibility of a discourse broad enough to capture both. Narrating the Law activates this mode of reading by looking at the Talmud's legal stories, a set of texts that sits uncomfortably on the divide between Halakhah and Aggadah. After noticing that such stories invite an expansive definition of law that includes other cultural voices, Narrating the Law also mines the stories for the rich descriptions of rabbinic culture that they encapsulate.

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Saving Shame

Martyrs, Saints, and Other Abject Subjects

By Virginia Burrus

Virginia Burrus explores one of the strongest and most disturbing aspects of the Christian tradition, its excessive preoccupation with shame. While Christianity has frequently been implicated in the conversion of ancient Mediterranean cultures from shame- to guilt-based, and thus in the emergence of the modern West's emphasis on guilt, Burrus seeks to recuperate the importance of shame for Christian culture. Focusing on late antiquity, she explores a range of fascinating phenomena, from the flamboyant performances of martyrs to the imagined abjection of Christ, from the self-humiliating disciplines of ascetics to the intimate disclosures of Augustine.

Burrus argues that Christianity innovated less by replacing shame with guilt than by embracing shame. Indeed, the ancient Christians sacrificed honor but laid claim to their own shame with great energy, at once intensifying and transforming it. Public spectacles of martyrdom became the most visible means through which vulnerability to shame was converted into a defiant witness of identity; this was also where the sacrificial death of the self exemplified by Christ's crucifixion was most explicitly appropriated by his followers. Shame showed a more private face as well, as Burrus demonstrates. The ambivalent lure of fleshly corruptibility was explored in the theological imaginary of incarnational Christology. It was further embodied in the transgressive disciplines of saints who plumbed the depths of humiliation. Eventually, with the advent of literary and monastic confessional practices, the shame of sin's inexhaustibility made itself heard in the revelations of testimonial discourse.

In conversation with an eclectic constellation of theorists, Burrus interweaves her historical argument with theological, psychological, and ethical reflections. She proposes, finally, that early Christian texts may have much to teach us about the secrets of shame that lie at the heart of our capacity for humility, courage, and transformative love.

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Scripture and Tradition

Rabbi Akiva and the Triumph of Midrash

By Azzan Yadin-Israel

The earliest rabbinic commentary to the Book of Leviticus, the Sifra, is generally considered an exemplum of Rabbi Akiva's intensely scriptural school of interpretation. But, Azzan Yadin-Israel contends, the Sifra commentary exhibits two distinct layers of interpretation that bring dramatically different assumptions to bear on the biblical text: earlier interpretations accord with the hermeneutic principles associated with Rabbi Ishmael, the other major school of early rabbinic midrash, while later additions subtly alter hermeneutic terminology and formulas, resulting in an engagement with Scripture that is not interpretive at all. Rather, the midrashic terminology in the Sifra's anonymous passages is part of what Yadin-Israel calls "a hermeneutic of camouflage," aimed at presenting oral traditions as though they were Scripture-based injunctions.

Scripture and Tradition offers a radical rereading of the Sifra and its authorship, with far-reaching ramifications for our understanding of rabbinic literature as a whole. Using this new understanding of the Sifra as his starting point, Yadin-Israel demonstrates a two fold break in the portrayal of Rabbi Akiva: hermeneutically, the sober midrashist who appeared in earlier rabbinic sources is transformed into an inspired, oracular interpreter of Scripture in the Babylonian Talmud; while the biographically unremarkable sage is recast as a youthful ignoramus who came to Torah study late in life. The dual transformations of Rabbi Akiva—like the Sifra's hermeneutic of camouflage—are motivated by an ideological shift toward a greater emphasis on scriptural authority and away from received traditions, an insight that sheds new light on the vexing question of midrash and oral tradition in rabbinic sources. Through this close examination of a notoriously difficult text, Scripture and Tradition recovers a vital piece of the history of Jewish thought.

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Scripture as Logos

Rabbi Ishmael and the Origins of Midrash

By Azzan Yadin

The study of midrash—the biblical exegesis, parables, and anecdotes of the Rabbis—has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years. Most recent scholarship, however, has focused on the aggadic or narrative midrash, while halakhic or legal midrash—the exegesis of biblical law—has received relatively little attention. In Scripture as Logos, Azzan Yadin addresses this long-standing need, examining early, tannaitic (70-200 C.E.) legal midrash, focusing on the interpretive tradition associated with the figure of Rabbi Ishmael.

This is a sophisticated study of midrashic hermeneutics, growing out of the observation that the Rabbi Ishmael midrashim contain a dual personification of Scripture, which is referred to as both "torah" and "ha-katuv." It is Yadin's significant contribution to note that the two terms are not in fact synonymous but rather serve as metonymies for Sinai on the one hand and, on the other, the rabbinic house of study, the bet midrash. Yadin develops this insight, ultimately presenting the complex but highly coherent interpretive ideology that underlies these rabbinic texts, an ideology that—contrary to the dominant view today—seeks to minimize the role of the rabbinic reader by presenting Scripture as actively self-interpretive.

Moving beyond textual analysis, Yadin then locates the Rabbi Ishmael hermeneutic within the religious landscape of Second Temple and post-Temple literature. The result is a series of surprising connections between these rabbinic texts and Wisdom literature, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the Church Fathers, all of which lead to a radical rethinking of the origins of rabbinic midrash and, indeed, of the Rabbis as a whole.

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The Sex Lives of Saints

An Erotics of Ancient Hagiography

By Virginia Burrus

Has a repressive morality been the primary contribution of Christianity to the history of sexuality? The ascetic concerns that pervade ancient Christian texts would seem to support such a common assumption. Focusing on hagiographical literature, Virginia Burrus pursues a fresh path of interpretation, arguing that the early accounts of the lives of saints are not antierotic but rather convey a sublimely transgressive "countereroticism" that resists the marital, procreative ethic of sexuality found in other strands of Christian tradition.

Without reducing the erotics of ancient hagiography to a single formula, The Sex Lives of Saints frames the broad historical, theological, and theoretical issues at stake in such a revisionist interpretation of ascetic eroticism, with particular reference to the work of Michel Foucault and Georges Bataille, David Halperin and Geoffrey Harpham, Leo Bersani and Jean Baudrillard. Burrus subsequently proceeds through close, performative readings of the earliest Lives of Saints, mostly dating to the late fourth and early fifth centuries—Jerome's Lives of Paul, Malchus, Hilarion, and Paula; Gregory of Nyssa's Life of Macrina; Augustine's portrait of Monica; Sulpicius Severus's Life of Martin; and the slightly later Lives of so-called harlot saints. Queer, s/m, and postcolonial theories are among the contemporary discourses that prove intriguingly resonant with an ancient art of "saintly" loving that remains, in Burrus's reading, promisingly mobile, diverse, and open-ended.

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Slandering the Jew

Sexuality and Difference in Early Christian Texts

By Susanna Drake

As Christian leaders in the first through fifth centuries embraced ascetic interpretations of the Bible and practices of sexual renunciation, sexual slander--such as the accusations Paul leveled against wayward Gentiles in the New Testament--played a pivotal role in the formation of early Christian identity. In particular, the imagined construct of the lascivious, literal-minded Jew served as a convenient foil for the chaste Christian ideal. Susanna Drake examines representations of Jewish sexuality in early Christian writings that use accusations of carnality, fleshliness, bestiality, and licentiousness as strategies to differentiate the "spiritual" Christian from the "carnal" Jew. Church fathers such as Justin Martyr, Hippolytus of Rome, Origen of Alexandria, and John Chrysostom portrayed Jewish men variously as dangerously hypersexual, at times literally seducing virtuous Christians into heresy, or weak and effeminate, unable to control bodily impulses or govern their wives. As Drake shows, these carnal caricatures served not only to emphasize religious difference between Christians and Jews but also to justify increased legal constraints and violent acts against Jews as the interests of Christian leaders began to dovetail with the interests of the empire. Placing Christian representations of Jews at the root of the destructions of synagogues and mobbing of Jewish communities in the late fourth and early fifth centuries, Slandering the Jew casts new light on the intersections of sexuality, violence, representation, and religious identity.

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Spectacles of Empire

Monsters, Martyrs, and the Book of Revelation

By Christopher A. Frilingos

The book of Revelation presents a daunting picture of the destruction of the world, complete with clashing gods, a multiheaded beast, armies of heaven, and the final judgment of mankind. The bizarre conclusion to the New Testament is routinely cited as an example of the early Christian renunciation of the might and values of Rome. But Christopher A. Frilingos contends that Revelation's relationship to its ancient environment was a rather more complex one. In Spectacles of Empire he argues that the public displays of the Roman Empire—the games of the arena, the execution of criminals, the civic veneration of the emperor—offer a plausible context for reading Revelation. Like the spectacles that attracted audiences from one end of the Mediterranean Sea to the other, Revelation shares a preoccupation with matters of spectatorship, domination, and masculinity.

Scholars have long noted that in promising a complete reversal of fortune to an oppressed minority, Revelation has provided inspiration to Christians of all kinds, from liberation theologians protesting globalization to the medieval Apostolic Brethren facing death at the stake. But Frilingos approaches the Apocalypse from a different angle, arguing that Revelation was not merely a rejection of the Roman world in favor of a Christian one; rather, its visions of monsters and martyrs were the product of an empire whose subjects were trained to dominate the threatening "other." By comparing images in Revelation to those in other Roman-era literature, such as Greek romances and martyr accounts, Frilingos reveals a society preoccupied with seeing and being seen. At the same time, he shows how Revelation calls attention to both the risk and the allure of taking in a show in a society which emphasized the careful scrutiny of one's friends, enemies, and self. Ancient spectators, Frilingos notes, whether seated in an arena or standing at a distance as Babylon burned, frequently discovered that they themselves had become part of the performance.

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