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Despite its almost universal acceptance, the story of Rabbi Akiba's youthful ignorance is not attested in tannaitic sources. Indeed, analysis of the manuscript traditions of Sifre Deuteronomy §357 allows us to recover a tannaitic dictum that identifies Rabbi Akiba as a student of Torah from childhood. The present article lays out the philological argument for accepting this reading, and outlines some of the broader issues the trajectory of Rabbi Akiba's biography raises. Finally, it suggests a possible motivation for this dramatic turn in the post-tannaitic representation of Rabbi Akiba.