The Memory of the Temple and the Making of the Rabbis

The Memory of the Temple and the Making of the Rabbis

Naftali S. Cohn
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    The Memory of the Temple and the Making of the Rabbis
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0746-0
    Subjects: Religion, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Notes on Usage
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: The Narration of Temple Ritual as Rabbinic Memory in the Late Second or Early Third Century
    (pp. 1-16)

    When Roman military forces conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple in the year 70, life changed for Judaeans living in the province of Judaea.¹ Aside from the direct consequences of war—the extensive casualties, the imperial appropriation of property, and the greater Roman political domination—Judaeans, or Israelites in rabbinic sources, must have also felt the absence of the Temple. Many Judaeans had regularly visited the Temple in order to participate in its ritual. But now there was no Temple, and the people could no longer make pilgrimage to perform the Temple’s rituals. priests, whose authority was tied to the...

  5. Chapter 1 Rabbis as Jurists of Judaean Ritual Law and Competing Claims for Authority
    (pp. 17-38)

    Who were the rabbis? Who, at least, did they claim to be? In the Mishnah, which is largely about law, the rabbis represent themselves as legal authorities engaged in a variety of activities pertaining to traditional Judaean law. Most commonly, rabbis in the Mishnah hold legal opinions, though they are also frequently described as teaching, debating, and issuing rulings, among other legal endeavors. To build a fuller picture of the rabbis’ legal role, however, and to understand where such a role would place them in the larger society, it is necessary to consider their claims in more detail and to...

  6. Chapter 2 The Temple, the Great Court, and the Rabbinic Invention of the Past
    (pp. 39-56)

    The makeup of society in Roman Palestine at the time the Mishnah was written and the place the rabbis claim for themselves within that society provide an important context for understanding how the rabbis remember the past and how the past they remember is shaped by and functions within the present. In this and the following two chapters, I take up three key ways in which the mishnaic Temple ritual narratives, as memories and as Temple discourse, make a powerful claim for the authority of the rabbis, one small group within the larger complex social landscape of Roman Syria Palaestina....

  7. Chapter 3 Narrative form and Rabbinic Authority
    (pp. 57-72)

    A second way in which the Mishnah’s accounts of past ritual argue for rabbinic authority is by means of narration. The narrative medium itself, I suggest, supports a claim for rabbinic authority by affirming in multiple ways the rabbis’ version of the Temple ritual of the past and by asserting rabbinic control over the very telling of how rituals were done in the past in the Temple. A number of key components of the narration, including the way these narratives are presented as events that actually happened, the narratives’ verisimilitude, their iterativity, the coherence of their “plot,” and even the...

  8. Chapter 4 Constructing Sacred Space
    (pp. 73-90)

    The use of narration and the invention of a powerful role for their putative predecessors are not the only ways in which the rabbis subtly put forth their own version of the Temple and thus assert authority over post-Temple Jewish ritual law and practice. A third way in which the rabbis lay claim to the Temple and its memory is by constructing, within the Mishnah’s textual world, the sacred space of the Temple. They do so in two ways: by describing ritualized entry into and exit from the Temple—aspects of the ritual that create and construct the Temple’s boundaries...

  9. Chapter 5 The Mishnah in the Context of a Wider Judaean, Christian, and Roman Temple Discourse
    (pp. 91-118)

    Like texts, discourses, and memories of all kinds, the Mishnah’s Temple ritual narratives, I have argued, put forth subtle claims for the importance and authority of their authors. The rabbis, by inventing an important role for the Court and its members, by using a unique narrative form, and by constructing the Temple’s sacred space, asserted that it was they, not other types of Judaeans and their leaders or ritual experts, who preserved authentic Judaean legal traditions and practices.

    The usefulness of the memory of the Temple for the rabbis, however, was not simply that they could recount and remake the...

  10. Conclusion: The Memory of the Temple and the Making of the Rabbis
    (pp. 119-122)

    A key contention undergirding the arguments of this book is that context is crucial for understanding the rabbis of the Mishnah: who they were, what their place was in society, what role they aspired to play, and—central to this book—why the Temple was so important to them and why they remembered the Temple and its ritual as they did.

    The rabbis of the Mishnah lived in a territory thoroughly dominated by the Roman emperor and, on a local level, by the governor, the military, and Roman elites. At the same time, they lived among many different groups, especially...

  11. Appendix A: The Mishnah’s Temple Ritual Narratives and Court-Centered Ritual Narratives
    (pp. 123-126)
  12. Appendix B: Mishnaic Narratives in Which a Rabbi or Rabbis Issue an Opinion with Respect to a Case
    (pp. 127-130)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 131-190)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 191-224)
  15. Index
    (pp. 225-238)
  16. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 239-244)