EAJS Conference Grant Programme 2017/18
Rabbinic Instruction in Context: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Transmission of Religious Knowledge and Praxis in Antiquity and Late Antiquity
Collaborative Research Centre 1136 “Education and Religion”, University of Göttingen, 18-19 September 2017
Organizer: Dr. Elisabetta Abate (formerly: University of Göttingen, CRC 1136 “Education and Religion”; since October 2017: Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen, Qumran-Lexikon / research associate in the CRC 1136)
The conference proved to be a congruent enterprise and a greatly enriching encounter between scholars from within and without Rabbinics, and at various career stages. The organizer wishes to express her gratitude to the people and institutions which enabled the event to come into existence and flourish: the EAJS for including it into its Conference Grant Programme in European Jewish Studies; the Collaborative Research Centre 1136 “Education and Religion” for entrusting her, in the first place, with the event’s conception; both institutions for the generous funding. A further acknowledgement is due to the administrative personnel for their kind and assiduous assistance and to the participants and guests for the collegial spirit with which they accompanied their intellectual contribution to the conference.
This report presents the original purpose and rationale for the event, a summary of the sessions, some thoughts on the main results, the plans for the conference volume, and the event’s program. The insights contributed by the participants and guests are so abundant and diverse, that the present report can only aspire to account for the main lines along which the event unfolded. A deeper and more comprehensive reflection on the results and implications of the papers presented, the responses, and the discussions is therefore to be differed to the introduction to the conference volume.
The Purpose of the Event
The following is the event’s abstract and rationale as proposed to the EAJS:
Event’s Abstract: The conference revolves around religious education in the (late) ancient Mediterranean from a comparative and interdisciplinary perspective, while focusing on the role of Judaism and on Jewish Studies. In doing so, it shall examine aspects of the intra- and intercultural transmission of religious knowledge and praxis, as they emerge from the Jewish, “pagan”, Christian, and Islamic literary evidence. Each of the main papers, followed by a response, shall offer a comparative analysis of selected relevant texts, drawn from classical rabbinic literature on the one hand, and from one of the other aforementioned traditions, on the other. Through the comparative/contrastive textual reading of the literary evidence, the event shall highlight some current ways of interdisciplinary inquiry into rabbinic Judaism and related traditions, and, at the same time, explore new paths of interdisciplinary research into religious education in the orbis mediterraneus and its environment in (late) antiquity.
Event’s Rationale: As an institutional framework, the Collaborative Research Centre 1136 “Education and Religion” (“Bildung und Religion in Kulturen des Mittelmeerraums und seiner Umwelt von der Antike bis zum Mittelalter und zum Klassischen Islam”, University of Göttingen) provides the thematic focus for the conference. At the same time, the specific key categories of religious education through which the event intends to look at rabbinic instruction (actors, contents, methods, settings, goals, and the correlations and interplay between them) can help differentiate and clarify some central aspects of the phenomenon, which sometimes appear confused or hard to grasp in the sources. Thus, on the plane of rabbinics, the encounter between the invited experts is meant to enable the exploration of rabbinic (representations of) constellations of religious education from a variety of viewpoints and sources. Not only that. The conference’s institutional framework offers a solid forum for an interdisciplinary exchange of research findings, as well as of theoretical and methodological insights. Thus, the event is meant both to explore and contextualize rabbinic religious education in its broader environment, and to promote a rich reflection on, and praxis of, interdisciplinary inquiry between Jewish Studies/rabbinics and a number of related scholarly fields (classical philology, Syriac studies, Patristics, the study of liturgical poetry, Arabic studies).
After an informal reception of the participants and guests, the conference was opened by a welcome-address held by the hosting institution’s Director, the Church-historian Prof. Dr. Peter Gemeinhardt, followed by a round of presentations.
The conference’s opening lecture took then the form of a keynote address held by Prof. Dr. emeritus Günter Stemberger (University of Vienna), who had kindly accepted my invitation to present an overview of interdisciplinary research on rabbinic literature. Whereas his presentation was planned with an ensuing discussion but without a response, the structure of the subsequent sessions was three-fold: a comparative paper by a scholar well versed in both rabbinic literature and at least one of the fields of study investigated by the hosting institution (40 minutes); a briefer response by a member of the latter, meant to enhance the interdisciplinary conversation within the hosting institution itself, as well as to emphasize the possibility and the necessity of such an exchange in general (10 minutes); a relatively long discussion, as free from time pressure as possible (30 minutes). A certain degree of fluidity between one time slot and the next, as well as between the breaks and the sessions, certainly played a key role in encouraging a pleasant and fruitful exchange between the participants.
The presented papers, the responses, and the discussion
a) Keynote Address
“Rabbinic Literature in Interdisciplinary Perspective”, Prof. Dr. emeritus Günter Stemberger (University of Vienna)
Günter Stemberger’s keynote address emphasized the permanent contact and continuous interaction between the Rabbis and the surrounding cultures in both Palestine and Babylonia. In concentrating his attention mainly on the former, he identified four main areas which an interdisciplinary approach to rabbinic literature has to take into account.
(1) Concerning the linguistic context of this literature and Palestinian Judaism in general, he argued that a prohibition of the study of the Greek language (stated in mSotah 9:14 and including to some extent the Greek culture) would have never worked in daily life for a Palestinian Jew, with the possible exception of purely Jewish villages in the eastern part of Upper Galilee, as becomes evident through the archaeological discoveries of the past century (see, e.g., the recent Corpus Inscriptionum Iudaea-Palaestinae). He raised questions about what sort of education a young Jew would enjoy in the context of deeply Hellenised Palestine, and to what extent he would have understood the Graeco-Roman culture to which he was so intensively exposed. Fascinating examples are the representations of Greek mythology, e.g., David depicted in the synagogue of Gaza as Orpheus enchanting animals, or the artistic decorations and some of the inscriptions found in the Jewish Catacombs of Beth Shearim, e.g., the epitaph of the Jew Justus, son of Leontius and of Sappho, with its poetic inscription in Homeric style. (For instances of the permeation of Hellenistic educational devices and literary forms into rabbinic texts see below the reports on Lorena Miralles Maciá’s and Ilaria Briata’s papers).
(2) Discussing the literary and religious context within the world of Palestinian Judaism beyond the world of the Rabbis (mainly the literature of Second Temple Judaism including, inter alia, Philo, Josephus, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and also Babatha’s archive and the letters of Bar Kokhba), he mentioned some areas in which our understanding has enormously profited from a study of the evidence alongside rabbinic texts. For the DSS, for example, the development of religious law and the origins of midrash. (For an examination of the DSS and rabbinic texts from the conference perspective, see below the reports on Lutz Doering’s paper).
(3) He further illustrated the gain of the archaeological excavations in Roman and Byzantine Palestine and touched upon (4) the relationship between Rabbinic Judaism and the surrounding Hellenistic “pagan” and then Christian world (especially the Church Fathers, e.g., Epiphanius of Salamis, who was mentioned by Ophir Münz-Manor in his paper, and the Apophthegmata Patrum, an object of Ilaria Briata’s presentation. On both contributions, see more below).
Lastly, he mentioned the main areas of interdisciplinary study of rabbinic Judaism in its Babylonian context (linguistic influences of Persian Babylonian Aramaic, traces of the Persian administration and jurisdiction, of Persian religion and Persian magic in rabbinic texts).
Discussion: Plenty of topics were touched upon in the discussion. The emphasis on the linguistic context of the Rabbis prompted a reflection on the generally scanty attention paid to Syriac in the interdisciplinary study of rabbinic Judaism (but see below the report on Ophir Münz-Manor’s paper). It also led to ask to what extent we can deal with the mighty width of the spectrum of fields which an informed study of rabbinic literature should take into account: how to build all of them into our curriculum? The relevance of collaborative workshops such as the present event was, then, explicitly brought to the fore.
b) Rabbinic Literature and its Hellenistic Background
“Aggadic Fables. Exemplary Tales in Rabbinic Vestments”, Dr. Lorena Miralles Maciá (University of Granada)
In examining the permeability of rabbinic instruction to Hellenistic models of behavior, Lorena Miralles Maciá explored the relationship between the late ancient corpora of Aesopian fables and rabbinic literature. The latter employs, she argued, elements drawn from the former in various literary forms, either by adopting a well-known Aesopian fable more or less in its entirety, to such extent that it can be read synoptically with a given rabbinic passage, or by substantially reworking an Aesopian fable motif, which nonetheless remains recognizable even in its new rabbinic garb. For each type (“fable” and “fable motif”), she presented a case-study: bBQ 60b for a version of the fable about “the middle-aged man with two wives” (R. Ammi and R. Assi prompted their teacher, R. Isaac Nappaha, to instruct them, but one was interested exclusively in legal traditions, the other only in traditions of lore) and Lev. Rabbah 22:4 (with elements from nature and animal life which evoke fable motifs). Against the tendency to classify such Rabbinic passages as parables (meshalim), she further argued for the need of a new theoretical frame and proposed the umbrella term of “aggadic fables”, which well fits a wide definition of fable such as that proposed by Haim Schwarzbaum (cf. idem, Mishle Shu‘alim (Fox Fables) of Rabbi Berechiah Ha-Nakdan: A Study in Comparative Folklore and Fable Lore, Institute for Jewish and Arab Folklore Research, Kiron 1979, p. I).
Response: Dr. Elisabetta Abate (University of Göttingen)
I observed that Lorena Miralles Maciá’s adoption of Schwarzbaum’s definition of fable (a fictitious tale whose purpose is to communicate ideas, teach lessons, enforce precepts, or illustrate principles of conduct) is particularly apt to shed light on the transmission of knowledge and praxis through texts, be they rabbinic or not, and makes the investigation of fables fruitful for the conference and transferable to the research pursued by the hosting institution. Furthermore, I stressed how the “Aggadic fable” found at bBQ 60b seems to offer a reflection on the dynamics of rabbinic instruction (in a sort of meta-educational piece), but I challenged LMM’s thesis that it can be read entirely synoptically alongside the fable of the middle-aged man with two wives. To the contrary, I suggested that its ending reverses the moral of the Aesopian fable and stresses the unity of rabbinic tradition.
Discussion: One thread of thought regarded the dynamics, settings, audience and languages of the transmission of the “Aesopian fables” and “Aesopian fable motifs” into the rabbinic collections. A second topic was the purpose and function of the employment of “pagan” materials in the rabbinic ones (moral and educational, or rather ironic or parodic?). A third set of questions engaged the literary genres of the material, also in relation to the introductive formulae, and the notion of “Aggadic fables”.
c) Rabbinic Literature and the Dead Sea Scrolls
“Pedagogy and ‘Curriculum’ according to the ‘Sectarian’ Texts from Qumran and Rabbinic Literature”, Prof. Dr. Lutz Doering (University of Münster)
Lutz Doering’s contribution explicitly addressed the interpretive categories laid down in the conference rationale (see above), by shedding light on aspects such as the recipients of instruction (with special attention paid to issues of age and gender); the objects, modes, and functions of study (e.g., the much debated “book of Hagi”); its stages, also in relation to the learners’ intelligence and maturity; the institutional settings (community, family, school?, study-house, synagogue, the house of a master). He did so by examining, comparing, and historically contextualizing relevant passages from the DSS (1QSa / Rule of the Congregation, 1QS / Rule of the Community, and the lines about the instruction of divorce children by the overseer in 4Q269) and rabbinic literature (a great amount of sources, from both Tannaitic and Amoraic layers). He stressed the similarities in the evidence provided by the two corpora, e.g., the stages and objects of group instruction and a missing focus on reading and writing. Among the main differences, he highlighted the mode of study, and the fact that all Qumran community members are purported as being involved in a continuous process of studying, whereas the rabbinic texts point to “higher education” as a specialization process for those who wished to become rabbis.
Response: Dr. Peter Porzig (University of Göttingen)
Peter Porzig illustrated the novelty of Lutz Doering’s reading of the selected Qumran texts (especially 1QSa). However, he challenged some points: a) the paper raises, to his mind, the impression of a neat separation between the group or groups behind the DSS and the groups that later led to rabbinic Judaism – but were there perhaps more areas of overlap between them which an interdisciplinary approach to the sources should take into account? b) Can the selected section from 1QSa truly be understood as a “sectarian” text? With this regard, he suggested that the term “book of Hagi” seems to comprise more than a sectarian way of studying and to require divine intervention rather than only discussion about Torah. In connection with that, he further asked what role the “teacher of righteousness” would play in the process described.
Discussion: In reply to one of Peter Porzig’s observations, Lutz Doering emphasized that there was certainly more than a connection between Qumran and “general Judaism”, as well as between the DSS and rabbinic literature, but both the Yaḥad and the Rabbis were elites, therefore the phenomena emerging from the evidence cannot be described as general education, but rather as distinct educational constellations. In addition to that and inter alia, a debate arose around the development of elementary teaching in Judaism, especially with regard to the significance of the Theodotos Inscription, which LD had discussed in his paper.
d) Rabbinic Literature and Liturgical Poetry – Hebrew Piyyut and Syriac Madrasha
“From the House of Study to the House of Worship: Hebrew and Syriac Liturgical Poems on the Dispute between Body and Soul”, Prof. Dr. Ophir Münz-Manor (Open University of Israel)
Ophir Münz-Manor argued that late ancient liturgical poetry did not amount to a mere versification of rabbinic and patristic discourses, but rather played a central and distinct role in the formation and dissemination of religious knowledge, especially for lay and illiterate segments of the population, both Jewish and Christian. In virtue of that, he advocated first of all an integration of the study of rabbinic texts and piyyutim. Secondly, he called attention to the relationship between Jewish and Christian, especially Syriac, discourses and texts. To illustrate the gain of this approach, he presented Jewish and Christian texts in prose and verse dealing with the mutual responsibility of the body and the soul in committing sins. The presence of the topic in both midrash and piyyut demonstrate the coexistence of both literary media in Jewish society. The striking similarities between the Jewish and the Christian texts, both in content and in the formal and stylistic traits, point to interactions between their composers.
Response: PD Dr. Dmitrij Bumazhnov (University of Göttingen)
Dmitrij Bumazhnov engaged in envisioning possible lines of development of the comparative study proposed by OMM. Here are some of the questions he drafted: a) one of the functions of Byzantine liturgy was to preserve and transmit religious dogma, which presupposes that liturgical poetry adequately expresses the faith of the Church and remains unchanged over a long period of time. Does it hold true for Jewish liturgy? b) Given the structural similarities between piyyut and the Syriac madrashe, what can be asked about the didactic elements of both genres? What is the role of choir, poet, soloist and audience with regard to their didactic character? c) Do some strata in both the Hebrew and Syriac material imply a polemic against conflicting views of the relationship between body and soul?
Discussion: The following is a sample of the many threads of thought which unfolded in the discussion: it was stressed that a distinction between the teacher’s or theologian’s role and the poet’s role is not relevant to the Christian tradition, but is clear-cut in the Jewish one, in that there is no piyyut in Rabbinic Literature. The comprehensibility of the language of the piyyut was dealt with and compared to the intelligibility of the Mishnah. The educational function of the refrain in the piyyut was highlighted. It was asked on which evidence our knowledge about the relationship between the liturgical poets and the synagogue relies. Attention was called to the ritualization of both Jewish and Christian religiosities in the 5th and 6th centuries.
e) Rabbinic and Eastern Christian Monastic and Apologetic Literatures
“It is Hard to Teach Orally What Has Not Been Practiced Physically: Ethics, Etiquette, and Education in Rabbinic and Monastic Literature”, Dr. Ilaria Briata (University of Verona)
Ilaria Briata addressed the interplay of religious education and practical instruction in rabbinic Judaism and eremitic monasticism, as they are articulated in a set of instructions for a polished social conduct in Derek Ereṣ Rabbah and the Apophthegmata Patrum. She demonstrated that, despite remarkable differences in origin and worldview, both corpora employ an adjusted form of the Hellenistic chreia in order to convey practical wisdom and the norms regulating the community, and are therefore comparable. In her reading, she organized the texts under three rubrics: “Fasting guests and feasting hosts”, “The spoiled meal”, and “Disgust, taste, and tact”. She defined them as instances of how two religious micro-societies narratively represented their habitus and argued that the monastic texts tend towards an ascetic conception of conduct and education, whereas the rabbinic discourse on manners promotes the individual’s full integration into the broader society.
Response: Prof. Dr. Peter Gemeinhardt (University of Göttingen)
Peter Gemeinhardt endorsed IB’s resorting to the notion of habitus and stressed a common methodological presupposition between her study and the approach adopted by the hosting institution in investigating religious education in late antiquity, that is, that contemporary methods and notions are applicable to pre-modern times. Further, he agreed on the assertion that early monasticism, as well as rabbinic Judaism, broadly and actively adapted the chreia as a pedagogic and literary device meant to promote the lifestyle of a cultural or religious elite, but challenged the claim that both corpora aim at providing instruction about sociality in everyday life and asked whom they really meant to instruct.
Discussion: The question of the audience (or readership) for which both corpora were conceived, or which made use of them, was the main topic in the discussion. It was observed that, whereas the readership of monastic literature is relatively easy to identify and goes beyond the eremitic circles, it is hard to say who the intended and actual audiences of DER were. In this regard, it was asked whether DER constitutes in itself a form of popularization of rabbinic culture, or it collects materials meant for the learned ones in the communities, who would employ them in their public homilies and teaching sessions for a broader public.
The main results
Reflecting back on the planned outcomes of the event and my own expectations, in this report I wish to characterize the process as an achievement per se, in that it succeeded in practicing the complex kind of scholarly conversation needed for making our grasp of Judaism in the ancient world more and more comprehensive and nuanced. The main result lies therefore in the fact that our exchange contributed to integrating distinct cultural traditions and cultural streams (the latter within Judaism), and their respective literary corpora and material remains, into a wider framework. Furthermore, by indicating points of comparison, we highlighted areas of overlap between the traditions under scrutiny. This is not to deny the importance of identifying their respective specific features and the dissimilarities between them. It amounts rather to an integration, as opposed to a fragmentation, of knowledge and of questions within our frames of mind and relates to the way in which we arrange our knowledge about the ancient and late ancient world. It is my hope that this process may be continued, which will be certainly one of the tasks of the planned conference volume. A further task of the latter will be to document the concrete conclusions which were drawn by the participants from the comparative investigation of the materials, both in terms of specific educational constellations in the orbis mediterraneus in (late) antiquity, and as far as the interdisciplinary transferability of our research questions and methods is concerned.
The conference volume
The main written output of the event will consist in a volume collecting and connecting the papers presented and a series of additional papers, to be published under my editorship by the publishing house Vandenhoeck&Ruprecht in Göttingen. The areas to be further covered by the volume and the authors to invite were initially identified by way of brainstorming by the participants in the last session of the conference. Currently, I am defining the book’s final plan and details. A last remark about the responses offered by Peter Porzig, Dmitrij Bumazhnov, and Peter Gemeinhardt is due at this point. Although they are not planned to develop into full-fledged papers, as integral components of the conference they provided an invaluable tool to enhance our understanding of the papers and their relevance from an interdisciplinary perspective. I will be glad to rely on them as sources of knowledge and further inspiration while writing the introduction to the volume.
The Programme of the Event
|Reception and Introduction
|Dr. Elisabetta Abate and Prof. Dr. Peter Gemeinhardt (Göttingen)
|Prof. Dr. Günter Stemberger (Vienna): “Rabbinic Literature in Interdisciplinary Perspective”
|Rabbinic Literature and Hellenistic Background
|Dr. Lorena Miralles Maciá (Granada) “Aggadic Fables. Exemplary Tales in Rabbinic Vestments” / Respondent: Dr. Elisabetta Abate (Göttingen)
|Rabbinic Literature and Dead Sea Scrolls
|Prof. Dr. Lutz Doering (Münster):
“Pedagogy and ‘Curriculum’ according to the ‘Sectarian’ Texts from Qumran and Rabbinic Literature” / Respondent: Dr. Peter Porzig (Göttingen)
|Rabbinic Literature and Liturgical Poetry – Hebrew Piyyut and Syriac Madrasha
|Prof. Dr. Ophir Münz-Manor (Jerusalem) “From the House of Study to the House of Worship: Hebrew and Syriac Liturgical Poems on the Dispute between Body and Soul” / Respondent: PD Dr. Dmitrij Bumazhnov (Göttingen)
|Rabbinic and Eastern Christian Monastic and Apologetic Literatures
|Dr. Ilaria Briata (Verona): “It is Hard to Teach Orally What Has Not Been Practiced Physically: Ethics, Etiquette, and Education in Rabbinic and Monastic Literature”/ Respondent: Prof. Dr. Peter Gemeinhardt (Göttingen)
|Brainstorming about the potential further contributors to the conference volume
|Lunch and farewell
* A further session was planned about Rabbinic and Islamic Literature, with Prof. Dr. emeritus Stefan Schreiner (University of Tübingen) as the main speaker, and Dr. Yassir El Jamouhi (University of Göttingen) as his respondent. Unfortunately Prof. Schreiner had to withdraw on grounds of ill health.
Link (flyer, poster, and event’s description): https://www.uni-goettingen.de/de/568747.html
Report’s Author: Dr. Elisabetta Abate (with further thanks to Ilaria Briata, Lorena Miralles Maciá, Peter Porzig, Irene Salvo and James Tucker for their Mitdenken about the content of the present report)