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Tales of the Neighborhood

Jewish Narrative Dialogues in Late Antiquity

Galit Hasan-Rokem (Author)

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Hardcover, 221 pages
ISBN: 9780520234536
February 2003
$57.95, £39.95
In this lively and intellectually engaging book, Galit Hasan-Rokem shows that religion is shaped not only in the halls of theological disputation and institutions of divine study, but also in ordinary events of everyday life. Common aspects of human relations offer a major source for the symbols of religious texts and rituals of late antique Judaism as well as its partner in narrative dialogues, early Christianity, Hasan-Rokem argues. Focusing on the "neighborhood" of the Galilee that is the birthplace of many major religious and cultural developments, this book brings to life the riddles, parables, and folktales passed down in Rabbinic stories from the first half of the first millennium of the Common Era.
Preface

1. Erecting the Fence: Texts, Contexts, Theories, and Strategies
2. Peeping through a Hole: Comparing and Borrowing
3. Building the Gate, or Neighbors Make Good Fences
4. The Evasive Center: Hadrian, the Old Man, the Neighbor, and the Rabbinic Rhetoric of the Empire
5. Between Us: A Conclusion

Notes
Index
Galit Hasan-Rokem is Max and Margarethe Grunwald Professor of Folklore and Head of the Institute of Jewish Studies at The Hebrew University, Jerusalem. She is the author of Web of Life: Folklore and Midrash in Rabbinic Literature (2000) and coeditor of The Defiant Muse: Hebrew Feminist Poems from Antiquity to the Present (1999) and Untying the Knot: On Riddles and Other Enigmatic Modes (1996).
"Hasan-Rokem brings exciting new life to the rabbinic texts. She skillfully turns tales into windows where we can see the cultural world in which the narrators of the midrashic world lived. This stimulating work is sure to make rabbinic literature more accesible and relevant to a wider audience."—Charlotte Fonrobert, author of Menstrual Purity: Rabbinic and Christian Reconstructions of Biblical Gender

"A meaningful contribution to feminist scholarship and studies of women in Jewish society of the Late Antiquities. Hasan-Rokem has succeeded in shifting our attention to women's narratives of Talmudic-Midrashic literature and the significance vested in them."—Dan Ben-Amos, Chair of the Graduate Program in Folklore and Folklife at University of Pennsylvania
One

Erecting the Fence


Texts, Contexts, Theories, and Strategies

This short book seeks to explore the ways in which we can learn something about the relationship between literature and reality in Late Antique Jewish culture by reading the texts that we call Rabbinic literature, the Talmud and the Midrash. The discussion will evolve specifically in terms of narratives told in Hebrew and Aramaic, mostly in the Galilee, some time between the years 150 and 500 C.E.

These stories are short and concise, and they are embedded in discursive contexts that often emphasize non-narrative concerns such as Bible exegesis and juridical deliberation. The reason they have stimulated generations of traditional interpretation and scholarly research is, I believe, their capacity to present themselves continually as forceful and condensed signs for multiple concerns and areas of experience and expression. The same seductive complexity of these apparently simple texts opens them for study from various vantage points and theoretical outlooks. It also assures us that no one analytical procedure will exhaust all their meanings.

The main theoretical concept I want to develop here is the narrative dialogue. The narrative dialogue is an analytical tool devised to explore the transport of cultural goods in terms that stretch the linear and dichotomous models of thought lying behind the concept of influence.1 Without denying the unifying characteristics of entities defined, by themselves and others, in terms of gender, age-group, class, religion, nationality, ethnicity, or other socially and culturally determined characteristics, it is necessary to state that most cultural communication constantly traverses these categories. The traffic across identity boundaries is more easily discernable in contemporary oral discourse than in discourse fixed in writing in rhetorical contexts, as the Talmud and the Midrash are. My purpose is to elicit the orality in the written, to invoke the plurality of the canonical, and by that to problematize the authority of received traditions.

Dialogues may assume various emotional and intellectual tones. They may display conflict, fear, adversity, and even hatred, and they may also breathe common heritage, shared interests, friendship, tolerance, and solidarity. Attesting to the communication between individuals from various intersecting, sometimes hostile groups, such dialogues never grow out of a total indifference of human beings to each other. Approaching the text as a dialogue, and in dialogue, maximizes its character as a communicative process in situ. Thus it may be claimed to be the most suitable approach for exploring the issue of the relationship of literature and reality, texts and human lives.

At this stage of literary and cultural studies few, if any, scholars suggest looking for a direct, referential relationship between literary texts and the realities to which they are connected. One may say that culturally and theoretically informed scholarship in the present approaches reality and literature as a mutually transforming bundle of relations. Realities form texts; texts on the other hand may be powerful agents in shaping realities.

It is now also generally accepted that literary texts with historical reference reflect the realities of those that crafted them rather than of those who figure in them and about whom they seem to tell. The case of Rabbinic literature proves, however, that this simple premise may present more of a maze than a highway for interpretation.

Rabbinic literature of Late Antiquity has come down to us in manuscripts and printed versions, all themselves produced no earlier than five hundred years after the projected date of the original production of the texts. The textual body of the Talmud and Midrash is immense in its scope and includes writings from Palestine as well as from Babylonia (in the region of what is Iraq today), compiled in a complete diglossia of Hebrew and Aramaic. These particular linguistic circumstances of a two-in-one language constitute an engaging field for the study of border crossing and unstable identity in Rabbinic literature that cannot be accomplished here.

The generic nature of the texts is varied, but could generally be characterized as being ethnographic in its concerns, including juridical and normative discourse, rooted in an intertextual practice of Bible interpretation and quotation, as well as various forms of narrative. I hold the texts to be ethnographic in their main interest as they, like ethnographic writing, reify the Lebenswelt, the experienced world, of the society they relate to, based on dialogically narrated material. It is exactly what has often been stamped as the Rabbis' lack of interest in history that I identify as their interest in ethnography: privileging the long duration of social institutions and everyday life over named historical persons and events with specific dates.

The Rabbis' textual production can be quite adequately characterized using Paul Atkinson's description of modern ethnographic writing: "vraisemblance based on 'intertextuality.' . . . The persuasive force of the ethnographic argument . . . is sustained by the repeated interplay of concrete exemplification and discursive commentary. The text moves from level to level and from voice to voice."2 Among the various expressive forms of discourse, generically identifiable narratives are those that can most feasibly be said to have been transmitted in oral communication and that pertain to the authority of collective creativity, and it is such texts that I shall analyze.

Because of its own traditional character and the open-ended editorial technique invested in it, Rabbinic literature of the Amoraic period, created approximately from the third century to the sixth century C.E., is best seen in its broader context. This includes (in addition to the canon of the Hebrew Bible) other Jewish—Hebrew and Aramaic—texts, the earlier Mishnah and other Tannaitic texts, and liturgical poetry and Bible translations, as well as mystical and magical texts mostly composed somewhat later than the main body of Rabbinic literature. Another intertextual perspective includes Hellenistic and Roman texts and the texts of Early Christians, especially, but not only, those composed in Palestine and its immediate vicinity.

The term used in English for the texts produced by Jews in the first five or six centuries of the Common Era, namely Rabbinic literature (parallel to the Hebrew Sifrut Haz"al), discloses immediately the patriarchal, male-dominated character traditionally attributed to these texts. Virtually all the individuals to whom particular passages are ascribed in the text are unambiguously male. The very small number of exceptions simply proves the general tendency.3 Apparently men also composed the larger units of texts, during the hundreds of years of their development.

The approach to Rabbinic texts applied here brings together theoretical and methodological perspectives of the historical study of ancient texts and research in folk literature and folklore. In earlier projects I have carried out research based on fieldwork in present cultures, that is, through interviewing and observing behavior and discourse. I shall try to elaborate on the possibility of applying this experience to the study of ancient texts. Dialogue has been a central concept in folklore and cultural anthropology for more than a decade.4 In addition to the obvious methodological aspect of the mode of procuring information, the dialogical approach also brings into the research a heightened existential consciousness and a positive approach to interpersonal and intercultural communication in itself. It generates as well a critical approach to the inescapable power of hierarchies that is a part of most fieldwork situations, between individuals with unequal educational and economic conditions, although it does not, of course, erase these inequalities. It is rarely the ones who are lower in power hierarchies who study those higher up. Historical study produces a similar "inequality," formulated by Hans Georg Gadamer and others as the hermeneutical stance of those who are acquainted with what came to pass. The feminist aspect of the present approach acknowledges, in fact celebrates, this turning of tables on the ancient patriarchal texts.

The tradition of the systematic study of folklore in Rabbinic literature was initiated by such masters as Bernát Heller and especially Louis Ginzberg. Dov Noy, who in the late 1950s began the academic research into contemporary folklore of Jews and Israelis, has devoted several studies to its links with Rabbinic literature.5

Folklore in Rabbinic literature may be conceptualized in various ways, as scholars, notably Eli Yassif and Dina Stein, as well as myself, have recently shown in book-length studies of the topic.6 Yassif's historical genre taxonomy, embracing Rabbinic literature in the entire continuum of Jewish/Hebrew folk narratives, strongly suggests defining literary study essentially within its own realm. Stein's approach is characterized by an emphasized caution with regard to establishing connections between the ancient texts and reality, probably reflecting the extreme lack of contextual information concerning the work to which she devoted her study, namely Pirkei De-Rabbi Eliezer. Constrained by subjectivity as I am, I shall only venture to say that my own approach is stamped by an ongoing tension. I am convinced that the texts of the Rabbis do communicate some aspects of the reality of Late Antique Jewish lives, with the proviso that who those Jews were is open to interpretation. At the same time, I can see that the texts wrap us in impenetrable veils of constructions.

As will be shown, the folkloristic point of view purports a reading of texts as cultural study, aiming at a dynamic comprehension of the communicative processes that construct and express group identities, while striving to trace the complex negotiations carried out with respect to their borders and overlappings. In particular, tales about women neighbors in Rabbinic literature are relevant to these theoretical and methodological preferences because of the conjunction of territorial and gender issues that they bring into focus. They reflect, construct, and regulate Late Antique Jewish approaches concerning differences and boundaries, as well as bonding and affiliation. In them the inseparability of the discourses of everyday life and of theological matters demonstrates the inherent ethnographic character of Rabbinic literature in all its phenomenological aspects, encompassing Aggada and Halakha.

The German Jewish pioneer of cultural studies Georg Simmel observed in his work on the sociology of space that the concept of border is a necessary consequence of the correlation between groups of humans and space.7 The border, while dividing the space between two groups, also forms the closest meeting place between them. Thus borders often constitute the issue as well as the locus of strife, but they may also serve as an arena for contact and exchange. Borders are crossed and trespassed, they are set and negotiated. A semiotically highly condensed sign communicating nexus and plexus, they are the very epitome of the cultural construction of human relations in space.

Simmel also coined the term "female culture" in an essay thus titled (which is in many senses dated), in which he points out the contrived character of gendered generalizations of female and male areas of expression, while himself not escaping several such generalizations.8 I shall evoke the possibility of envisioning specific domains of feminine experience in ancient texts, notwithstanding the theoretical weakness, maybe even impossibility, of such conjectures of specific "mentalities." The inherent corrective for these looming problems is to turn to the analysis of "the contexts of communication and . . . explicit concepts of linguistics and other categories," as G. E. R. Lloyd has advised in his perceptive critique of the study of mentalities.9

Neighbors have earned astonishingly little scholarly attention. Their connection is, however, the socio-spatial tie that constitutes the closest relationship beyond the family unit, and in patriarchal societies neighbors very often also belong to the same family.10 In various excavations of Late Antique houses in the Galilee it has often proven impossible to delineate clearly where the limits between family and close neighbors were on the ground.11 Thus the neighbor relationship both is based on spatial and social proximity and embodies boundaries.

It is not a coincidence, I believe, that stories about neighbors tend to figure women as their protagonists. The correlation between women figures and minimal territorial passage enables those stories to articulate lesser sociocultural border crossings, while pointing at much more severe ones, which are transported into the reading by means of cultural associations and intertextuality. The Janus face of reflection and construction becomes apparent: the neighbor women of our tales may be seen as metonymic representations of neighbor women in the Galilee of Late Antiquity and as metaphors for various other kinds of "neighbor" relations at the same time. Neighbors encountered in ancient texts constitute narrative topoi when regarded in the light of literary tradition, cultural idioms when the sociocultural perspective is stressed.12

My interest in this topic was roused in the context of my work on the Palestinian fifth-century text Leviticus Rabbah (or Vayiqra Rabbah), elaborating on the biblical book of Leviticus, the third book of Moses. Leviticus Rabbah belongs traditionally to the "great Midrash"-Midrash Rabbah-on the Pentateuch and the Five Scrolls. Midrash Rabbah is, however, not one literary work; it stems from various periods and locations. Each of its separate books (Genesis Rabbah, Exodus Rabbah, . . . Song of Songs Rabbah, Ruth Rabbah, etc.) has a distinct compositional and poetic character. Leviticus Rabbah is a so-called homiletical Midrash, meaning that it does not elaborate on each verse of the biblical book, as does the exegetical Midrash (Genesis Rabbah, Lamentations Rabbah, Song of Songs Rabbah, Ecclesiastes Rabbah). Leviticus Rabbah is distinguished by its elaborate and unified compositional scheme and by the superb quality of its narrative style.13

Leviticus Rabbah includes no less than four narratives in which the encounter of women neighbors either is the focus of the narrative or plays a central role in it. Considering the rather marginal role of women in Rabbinic literature generally, this relative concentration of women neighbors in one text calls for explanation and interpretation. The present discussion of these texts is informed by the feminist endeavor to retrieve the representation of female voices from ancient literature, so heavily dominated by male authority and patriarchal values. While not devaluing the extent of male domination in most ancient Jewish texts, including Rabbinic literature, I tend to claim the potential presence of female voices in them based on their collective character. This argument is supported by the occurrence of genres performed by women known from other sources and by specific mention of women narrators and agents. 14

The stress put here on folk narratives and the ethnography of everyday life in Rabbinic literature partially disentangles that literature from its traditional immurement in the confines of the synagogue and the academy (bet-midrash), a restriction largely created by later interpretative practices and academic discourse. Folk narratives in Rabbinic literature are almost always embedded in discourses that point to the synagogue (such as homiletical passages of drasha and Aramaic translations of Bible texts) or to the academy (in textual interpretation and extrapolation). Nevertheless, their character as folk narratives of various genres, with parallels inside the Rabbinic corpus and elsewhere, opens up a view of other life experiences and institutions. By these I mean mainly the family, women's groupings (such as neighbors), uneducated people, and people from the religious and ethnic margins of the Rabbinic establishment, which in itself was not the only possible hegemonic institution in the Jewish society of the time.15

A possible interpretation of the presence of folk narratives in a canonized text is the appropriation of popular materials by a sophisticated establishment in order to draw wider audiences into its circle. This assumption necessitates adopting an unambiguous picture of center and periphery for the society in question. That kind of picture of Late Antique Galilee, positing the Rabbis explicitly in the center, has been based solely on their own texts. Comparative materials emerging from archeological and other textual sources are presently modifying this picture and introduce possible other contemporaneous centers of authority, primarily the priestly families, Kohanim.16

My approach has been, and is, designed to subvert the picture that seems to emerge from traditional scholarly readings, in which all other social institutions except for the academy and the synagogue have been overlooked as active participants in the creation of theRabbinic texts. The discourse of the synagogue is created across its threshold, so to speak, and the wisdom of the rabbis is intertwined with the words of wise women. And moving to larger-scale neighbor relationships, I find it necessary to upset the configuration in which the Christians and the pagans are understood as the "environment" of the Jews and the Jews and the pagans as the "environment" of the Christians.17 I ask whether the pagans had an "environment" and who would use that relational set-up today, since center and periphery seem to be determined by the cultural preferences of the scholars and there are probably no or very few scholars who would identify themselves as "pagans."18 By analyzing the "tales of the neighborhood," I hope to demonstrate that the neighboring pagan, Jewish, and Christian dwellers of the Galilee in Late Antiquity shared, rather than influenced, each other's theological and narrative worlds as well as numerous cultural practices.

The mutual position of neighbors is by definition symmetrical, and lacks in and of itself hierarchic structure (although there may be other factors constructing a hierarchy, such as a rich neighbor next to a poor one). This symmetry introduces into narratives about neighbors the potential of a close relationship characterized by a lack of domination yet involving contest over territory, legitimacy, and other kinds of symbolic capital by which cultural identities are negotiated.19

"Everyday life" is a primary cultural category in this analysis, from which follows a research strategy designed to encompass varied expressive modes, verbal and nonverbal, which constitute the fabric of everyday life as experienced and as recorded. In addition to the inherently media- and genre-crossing character of folklore studies, Michel de Certeau's theoretical and methodological writing has been an important inspiration for me.20 De Certeau has not only clearly stated the justification and need to study the creative moments embedded in everyday life, but has also devised a cunning theoretical basis as well as a sophisticated methodological procedure and terminology for it. Thus he has stressed the inherent embeddedness of the creativity of everyday life, which requires that every analysis of it must rip the analyzed phenomenon from its intrinsic context. De Certeau's analysis introduces "strategies" and "tactics" as categories that assess the functional aspects of the creativity of everyday life. Although the terminology will not be applied here in detail, the general approach of his theorizing and analysis has informed what follows.

I want to emphasize that I do not read everyday life in the Rabbinic texts as a total antithesis to the culture of the synagogue and the academy or to the theological dimension of the texts. Nor does it represent a contrast to the interethnic and interreligious relations in the Galilee at the relevant period. Rather, neighbors as an everyday life phenomenon appear as transformations of these other cultural domains mentioned and maintain multivalent connections with each of them and with many other discursive fields. I suggest that the narratives on women neighbors in Rabbinic literature negotiate separate identities in great proximity, maybe even a threatening proximity, and thus they process intergroup relations as "cultural idioms."

Another central set of terms in this discussion is derived from the genres of folk narratives.Folk narrative scholars have traditionally put great stress on the genre definition of the texts they have studied. The founding fathers of the discipline, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, established a historical phenomenology of the field on a tripartite division of genres—myth, folktale, and legend—that has had an amazingly long life in the discourse of folk narrative studies. I have elsewhere explained at length why I do not regard myth as a folk-literary genre.21 Inspired by Claude Lévi-Strauss, Roland Barthes, and others, I consider myth a reflective process in which culture privileges certain configurations of thought that produce structures, ideologies, and contents and are embodied in them.22 These, in turn, become part of the reflective and creative process and feed into its continuation. The other two main genres, the folktale and the legend, unlike the myth, can be discerned as separate speech-acts, but have also a reflective stance with regard to reality. I shall very briefly characterize the mode of the projection of reality peculiar to each genre, although my analysis will show that they do not exist as "pure" forms in the texts but are rather interpretative stances of them.

The folktale projects its plot on a world basically unlike the world of the narrator, in that the logic and reality rules in it are radically different. The narrative art of the folktale abounds in unrealistic, supernatural figures and events. What emerges is thus a fantastic world in which the improbable mingles with the probable in a way that characterizes dreams.23 These characteristics have turned the folktale into a favorite playground for psychological interpretation, grounded in the understanding that folktales are collectively transmitted projections of the inner world of fears and wishes for which psychology and especially psychoanalysis have created a cogent discourse.24

In comparison, legends are rooted in the social reality of the narrators and the audiences, their values and concepts of logic. The narrative technique in which the legend is embodied strives towards verisimilitude. The contents of the legend privilege well-known or easily identifiable figures, places, and dates.

Everyday life, gender, territory, and boundaries as well as genre considerations are the building blocks in my discussion of the "neighborhood narratives" of Leviticus Rabbah.

The immediate thematic context of the first story presented is a discussion on the prohibition against taking an oath. Thus the textual framework of the narrative displays a heightened interest in the nature and power of verbal communication. The embodiment of the transgression of this prohibition in the discourse of two neighbor women reveals a negative and anxiety-ridden approach to female speech. A similar attitude is also found in the various accusations of women as prattlers, as in the story about the overly talkative mother of Rabbi Shim'on Bar-Yohai (Leviticus Rabbah 34.16), or even worse, as witches.25

This is how the tale starts:26

Once there was woman who went to knead dough at her neighbor's house, and in her shawl she wrapped three dinars. She sat down and put them next to her. When she was sitting and rolling out the dough, they got mixed in with the bread. She looked for them and did not find them.
At that point the peaceful, quotidian atmosphere is disturbed, and the women start to communicate in words:

She said to her neighbor: Did you find those three dinars? The other neighbor had three sons. She said: I'll bury this son if I have them. And she buried him. She asked another time: Did you find those three dinars? And she said: I shall bury another son if I am the one who has found them. And she buried him. She asked another time: Did you find those three dinars? And she said: I shall bury the third son if I have them. And she buried him. Said she [the neighbor of the bereaved woman, to herself, or to her husband]: Should I not go to console my neighbor? She took a bread roll and sat down. While she broke the bread, three dinars fell out. That is why people say: right or wrong—never take an oath.

The narrative confirms the ideational framework claiming that any oath, true or false, constitutes a risk and is therefore forbidden. The status of the woman's oaths in the motivational structure of the plot is, however, completely dependent on an extremely moot point in the text itself. Namely, was the loaf from which the coins fell out brought by the visiting neighbor, as is the custom during mourning, or was the bread perhaps one which had originally remained in the bereaved woman's house after the common baking? It is thus the oath as oath that is condemned, true or false.

Scribes and editors of later versions of the same tale (editio princeps and other early printed editions, as well as Yalkut Shimoni) felt the need to disambiguate the order of the events. They thus inserted after the words "she took a bread roll" the words "and went to console" instead of the existing "and sat down." The order of things and the identity of each person in the plot were thus clearly established by them, in sharp contrast to the multivalent and clouded formulation of the Palestinian Midrash text as it has been transmitted down to our age in manuscript.27

The narrative mode shifts radically from the seemingly realistic, peaceful everyday setting of two neighbors baking together, to a nonrealistic representation in which one woman looks intensely—almost hysterically—for her money, and the other resorts to a triple oath taking, actually cursing her own sons with no pertinent motivation. The unreal effect, suggesting the fantastic and highly stylized genre of folktale, lies in the accumulation of three episodes, characteristic of artistic folk prose, and their combination with the instant, magical fulfillment of the power of words.

Whereas the Leviticus Rabbah version of the tale and its cognates totally lack gender confrontation, such a confrontation does appear in some of the parallel versions in other texts of Rabbinic literature, all significantly different from each other. The Palestinian Talmud (PT) yShvuot 6.5, version includes no husband, and the fact that the coins (two in this case) are in the bread is already revealed in the episode of the baking, so that the tension and the dramatic effect that characterize the Leviticus Rabbah version are absent. (This literary superiority often characterizes narrative renderings of Leviticus Rabbah when compared to Rabbinic parallels.)28

In the version that appears in bGittin 35a, a man deposits a dinar in a woman's house; she bakes the coin into a loaf, which she then gives to a beggar. Her oath, which condemns her son to death if she has benefited from the coin, results in his death, explained by the rabbis by the fact that she gained the amount of dough which was replaced by the coin. The course of events is especially distressful since she is severely punished although she committed an act of charity.

In Pesiqta Rabbati 113bff., in a long passage devoted to the elaboration of the Ten Commandments, there is a version that, like the Palestinian Talmud narrative, reveals the fact that the dinars are in the dough too early to create a real point.29 In the Pesiqta Rabbati version the gender conflict is more evident than in the Leviticus Rabbah story that has been discussed here. It is the husband of the visiting neighbor who alerts her regarding the missing dinars as he asks for them upon her return from the baking session. It is also the husband who in this version urges his wife to make the condolence visit.

The occurrence of the husband in the plot stresses the potential for a clash between the genders and creates a manifest opposition between the couple relationship and the potential female bonding of the two neighbors. The female bonding is, however, not actualized in a positive manner in any of the versions of the tale. The communication between the two women is tinged by the horror that lurks behind the oath.

The ideological context, the prohibition against uttering any kind of oath, true or false, evokes a powerful cultural parallel, namely the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount from the gospel of Matthew, (as Margalioth noted in his explication of the Leviticus Rabbah text):

Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. (Matthew 5:33-36).
The Sermon on the Mount is a text that includes a number of intertextual references to the Hebrew Bible as well as to Rabbinic literature.30 It also seems to have been known by the rabbis.31 The Palestinian Midrashic reference in our tale clearly does not fit into the category of polemics or of parody. Rather, the mode of cultural dialogue here is one of shared tales, shared values, shared hopes, and shared texts.

William David Davies's monumental work on the Sermon on the Mount probes many intertextual connections with a number of Jewish sources. Following exegetic and scholarly tradition, he sets the specific passage on oaths in the context of the "antitheses," where Jesus explicitly situates himself in the law-abiding Jewish tradition but introduces a new understanding of Scripture.32 Jesus applies here a standard Midrashic procedure of textual interpretation, and Matthew's interaction with Galilean Jewish practice and discourse is indeed quite commonly accepted in various formulations.33

Before elaborating further on the interreligious discourse embodied in the tale of the two neighbor women, I want to situate the narrative in the textual universe of Rabbinic discourse. The Bible is the primary treasure trove of associations for Rabbinic literature. There are two powerful biblical associations that correlate baking with gender division as well as with violence and death: the unleavened bread baked by the woman of Ein-Dor for King Saul (1 Samuel 28:24), and the cakes baked by Tamar for her brother Amnon before he raped her (2 Samuel 13:8).34

Whereas the narrative of the two baking neighbor women in Leviticus Rabbah itself does not involve a gender conflict (although it emerges in several of its later parallels), such a conflict is explicitly present in the context of the chapter as a whole. The chapter opens with a reference to Leviticus 5:1: "And if a soul sin, and hear the voice of swearing, and is a witness, whether he has seen or known of it; if he do not utter it, then he shall bear his iniquity." The verse from the Torah is correlated with a series of verses from other biblical books, in a manner characteristic of the homiletical Midrash:

"Bear not a witness against thy neighbour without cause; and deceive not with thy lips" (Proverbs 24:28); "I have declared and have saved, and I have shewed, when there was no strange god among you; therefore ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, that I am God" (Isaiah 43:12); "Thine own friend and thy father's friend, forsake not" (Proverbs 27:10); "And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people: and they said, All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient" (Exodus 24:7); "And he received them at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf: and they said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt" (Exodus 32:4).
The cultural idiom evoked by the textual mosaic of these verses is the hieros gamos, the sacred marriage between God and Israel in Sinai.35 The mode of the relationship underscored by the formation discussed here is, however, not idyllic love, but rather the tragic rupture caused by the infidelity of one of the partners of the covenant, Israel. The entire unfolding of love, betrothal, and betrayal (the worship of the calf) is staged in the mythical era of the wandering in the desert. Thus it produces a paradigm of history at the same time as it is conceived of as an early stage in the linear evolution of the national history. This metaphorical representation of theology is rooted in the so-called allegorical exegesis of the Song of Songs, well attested in several Jewish and Christian texts from this period. In that context Israel is considered the wife who has broken the bond of marriage and is therefore rightly banished and punished.

A quote from Hosea's admonitory prophecy in the next passage of the same section of chapter 6 of Leviticus Rabbah—"But they like men [ke-adam = Adam] have transgressed the covenant: there they have dealt treacherously against me" (Hosea 6:7) referring to Adam and the Eden story—underscores the seductive character of the woman in this matrimonial drama. The same effect is attained in an even more explicit way by the application of the Hebrew verb pth, to seduce. Moreover, section 4 of the same chapter, following the section in which the narrative of the two neighbor women baking appears, correlates the sin from Leviticus 5:1 with the woman accused of adultery, the "Sotah," based on Numbers, chapter 5.

This textual framing of the tale reinforces a negative view of women and extends it to condition the readers' perception of the women in the tale as well. The interpretation of the behavior of the woman who takes the repeated oaths would in an isolated reading of the tale text be primarily conditioned by the conventions of the genre of the folktale, allowing for extreme acts and also attributing events to the power of fate. The surrounding context of the chapter, however, underscores the woman's utter stupidity and in particular her disobedience of the prohibition against taking oaths.

Another Rabbinic text illuminating the narrative is the Halakha in the Mishnah Pesahim 3.4:

Rabban Gamliel says: Three women may knead dough at the same time and bake it in the same oven. But the Sages say: Three women may occupy themselves [at the same time] with the dough, one kneading, one rolling it out, and one baking. Rabbi Akiva says: All women and all kinds of wood and all ovens are not equal.
From this Mishnah passage we learn that women's common baking may be regarded as an activity that needs to be restricted by exact laws.

A fundamental principle of the interpretation of folk narratives in Rabbinic literature is illustrated by this example. Reading Rabbinic stories as folk narratives often associates them with worldviews and ideas that make it difficult to harmonize them with what has traditionally—and in my view at least partly mistakenly—been understood as the Rabbinic worldview. Their explication as an inherent part of the Rabbinic text, however, highlights ideas in them that become particularly concretized and reinforced by the Rabbinic context.

It seems methodologically sound to distinguish the folk narrative from the bulk of the Rabbinic text in order to establish its connections with folk narratives in general and to listen carefully to the messages it introduces into the Rabbinic corpus. I have analyzed above the folk narrative aspects of the tale of the two baking women, paying special attention to the concept of genre. It is, however, absolutely essential to see this isolating move as a methodological device leading ultimately to an integrative interpretation of the Rabbinic text that includes the folk narratives in it. Such an interpretative stance acknowledges the fact that Palestinian Midrash literature grew in a complex society where pagans, Jews, and Christians interacted culturally and where women, men, and children carried out a common discourse in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, Latin, and Syriac, among other languages.

As an example of the shared narrative worlds I quote the following parable of Jesus from the gospel of Luke:

Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and her neighbors, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the coin that I had lost. Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. (Luke 5:7-9, New Revised Standard Version)
Although the gospel of Luke is not one of those considered traditionally "Galilean," it does include parallels of the Galilean materials of the other synoptic gospels.36 The common combination of the themes of a lost coin and women neighbors does not necessarily tell us about textual influence, but it does set the model of thought by which matters of life and death, human and divine, are experienced and narrated through tales of the neighborhood and everyday life, in a manner uniquely crafted in the Galilee in Late Antiquity.

The following Midrashic parable, reflecting on the genre of parable itself, where the king does not necessarily represent God as in most Rabbinic parables, widens the interpretative range of our narrative further:

It is like a king who has lost a golden coin or a precious pearl in his house—does he not find it by means of a wick worth a penny? Similarly, let not this parable be light in your eyes, for by means of this parable one comes to comprehend the words of Torah. (Song of Songs Rabbah 1.1.8)37

According to Daniel Boyarin, this text reveals the significance of the parable genre in Rabbinic discourse as "an explicit representation of the culturally specific 'meaning system,' making reading possible."38 David Stern deems it an expression of the Rabbis' tendency to underrate the parable's narrative value ("a wick worth a penny") in order to highlight its exegetic function.39 When it is read in light of the texts from Luke and Leviticus Rabbah, a new perspective on the borders of the Rabbinic universe of discourse and its "meaning system" emerges. Whereas both Luke and Song of Songs Rabbah make an explicit referential move from the experience level of everyday life to the level of, respectively, "heavenly kingdom" and "Torah," the narrative of the two baking neighbors communicates a religious experience from a less institutionalized but no less existentially pertinent angle.

Let it be that the woman made a terrible mistake in uttering an oath. Let it be that she was thrice stupid in thrice repeating it. What the folktale communicates is the experience of women and men in an age not in vain termed by E.  R. Dodds "the age of anxiety,"40 in which many coins are not found. The narrative voice of the folktale not only subverts the textual establishment of a Rabbinical hierarchy; it also enables the introduction of the voice of a human experience not always concomitant with the theological design of retribution. Thus it introduces into the theological world of the Rabbinic text an everyday experience of disillusion, which is not heretical in positing an alternative set of beliefs, but truly revolutionary in its total overthrowing of moral order.

Of course, it is possible to suggest as a scholastic justification that in the Rabbinic world of ideas the seeming disproportion, if not injustice, meted out to the poor woman's ill-fated sons (who absolutely had not sinned) will be compensated in the world to come. It is also possible to ponder on the potential Epicurean trains of thought embedded in Midrashic texts. Likewise it is possible to argue that by telling folktales and especially tales about women, the rabbinical authority producing the text signals a distance from its radical messages. These explanatory strategies, however, not only cancel each other out but also fail to give a real understanding for the extensive and powerful presence of folk narratives in Talmudic-Midrashic literature.

A further New Testament parallel reinforces the subversive potential of the Rabbinic tale, as well as the close connection between the two narratives:

He told them another parable: The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and hid [New Revised Standard Version "mixed in"] in three measures of wheat flour until all of it was leavened (Matthew 13:33; Luke 13:20-21 is almost identical).

Interpretations seem to agree that the leaven here stands for one of the most revolutionary concepts in the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament, the kingdom of heaven, in the sense of social and spiritual change. The kingdom of heaven has on the whole a privileged position in the parables of Jesus.41 In her imaginative analysis focusing on the New Testament parables that include women figures, Susan Marie Praeder has pointed out that (1) the collocation of the three measures and the flour recalls the story of the visit of the angels to Abraham and Sarah and thus also the birth and imminent sacrifice of Isaac; and (2) that the Greek word "hide," which is not the most expected word to be used in the context, also encompasses the meaning of "bury."42

On the whole, the emotional and poetic tone shared by the Leviticus Rabbah tale and Jesus' parables reminds us of Paul Ricoeur's profound insight about the latter: "To listen to the Parables of Jesus . . . is to let one's imagination be opened to the new possibilities disclosed by the extravagance of these short dramas."43 One may venture, on the basis of the analysis carried out here, to correlate Rabbinic narratives to the "network of intersignification" that Ricoeur has suggested Jesus' parables constitute.

If I were pushed to venture a historical reconstruction, I would suggest that we prefer the structural logic to the chronological one. That is, although the written New Testament parables precede the written form of the Leviticus Rabbah story by a couple of hundreds of years, it seems likely that Jesus or any other possible author of the parables had heard a very similar story to the one told in the Midrash. The two parables were then constructed from it, rather than it being constructed from them.44 The later Rabbinic version apparently includes the meaning acquired in the New Testament rendering. But since I am not striving after a historical reconstruction, I shall be content to point at a clear Galilean narrative dialogue between groups that later became identified as separate religions.

Tessa Rajak's illuminating conclusion contributes to the understanding of the interplay between historical context and the interpretation of these texts: "But eventually neither pagan nor Jewish but Christian anxieties were to be responsible for constructing new barriers. And soon Jewry itself was actually to forget a remarkable phase of its existence, to an extent where it has become hard to believe that the Rabbinic age was for many Jews not a period of looking inward but rather a time when the world opened out."45

The central images of this Rabbinic folktale present some of the shared idiomatic boundaries along which the religious difference between Judaism and Christianity is shaped in Late Antiquity. Take the signification of the bread of the Passover night: although bread signals the death of the first-born (or the First-Born) for both religions, it also draws our attention to the transformational nature of the difference (or even "differance" in the Derridean sense)—the body as bread and the word as body.46 And unlike the Risen Son of Mary, the three sons of the baker woman were not resurrected on the third day or ever.

The cultural universe of the Rabbinic texts cannot be exhausted by taking into account only scholarly discourse, Jewish, Christian, or pagan. It is not fully understood by allowing only for an orderly universe hierarchically designed by a dominant God. An understanding of the world of Late Antique Jews has to encompass the languages of the home and the lane, the fence and the cracks, to make room for the complexity of the human experience in all its richness and pain.

A further thought arises regarding the coins: Why did the woman carry them into her neighbor's house to begin with? Does the fact that she had a shawl—worn by married women in public spaces—interpret the space between the two houses as public? What does her carrying coins from her home to the presumably adjacent house of her neighbor tell us about the experience of boundaries and identity? How does it shape her as an independent owner of money? Is it somehow related to the Mishnah text in Bava Metsia, quoting one of the founding figures of Rabbinic literature? "Thus said Hillel: A woman should not lend a bread to her neighbor, until she pays for it in money, lest the wheat grows dearer and produces interest (ribbit)" (mBava Metsia 5.9).

I would suggest that this is a story about unstable identities and about the insecurity of borders, which, however fortified they may be, can never replace the security of human bonding. The walls of a house cannot assure the life of humans where oath taking has replaced simple trust. The implications of the instability of human boundaries on the theological construction of the borders between the human and divine realms emerge through the intersecting of a folktale and Scripture.

The powerful creative thrust of the Rabbinic textual institution is marked by the fact that it seems to communicate not only what has traditionally been considered its inner discourse but also its dialogic counterparts and even its antitheses. The reading of folk narratives in Rabbinic literature not only acknowledges the inclusion of experiential and intellectual inspirations from outside the academy and the synagogue, as I have mainly claimed in my earlier work. Ultimately, it teaches us about the variety and mobility of ideas and literary creativity active at the heart of the dynamic process that we historically define as Rabbinic literature.

 

 

Notes

47Galit Hasan-Rokem, "Narratives in Dialogue: A Folk Literary Perspective on Interreligious Contacts in the Holy Land in Rabbinic Literature of Late Antiquity," in Sharing the Sacred: Religious Contacts and Conflicts in the Holy Land—First-Fifteenth Centuries C.E., ed. Aryeh Kofsky and Guy G. Stroumsa (Jerusalem: Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi, 1998), 109-29.

48Paul Atkinson, The Ethnographic Imagination: Textual Constructions of Reality (London: Routledge, 1990), 103. See also Galit Hasan-Rokem, Web of Life: Folklore in Rabbinic Literature and Midrash (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2000; Hebrew original, 1996), 7-8.

49David Goodblatt, "The Beruriah Traditions," Journal of Jewish Studies 26 (1975): 68-85; Tal Ilan, Jewish Women in Graeco-Roman Palestine (Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr [Paul Siebeck], 1995) and Mine and Yours Are Hers: Retrieving Women's History from Rabbinic Literature (Leiden: Brill, 1997); Miriam B. Peskowitz, Spinning Fantasies: Rabbis, Gender, and History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997); Charlotte Elisheva Fonrobert, Menstrual Purity: Rabbinic and Christian Reconstructions of Biblical Gender (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2000).

50See, e.g., Dennis Tedlock and Bruce Mannheim, eds., The Dialogic Emergence of Culture (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1995).

51Noy's work is reviewed in Hasan-Rokem, Web of Life, 1-7.

52Eli Yassif, The Hebrew Folktale: History, Genre, Meaning, trans. Jacqueline Teitelbaum (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999; Hebrew original, 1994), 70-244; Hasan-Rokem, Web of Life; Dina Stein, Maxims, Magic, Myth: Folk Literary Perspectives on Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer (Jerusalem: Magnes Press: forthcoming).

53Georg Simmel, Selected Writings (Simmel on Culture), ed. David Frisby and Mike Featherstone (London: Sage, 1997), 137-74. See also Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991), 99: "Any determinable and hence demarcated space necessarily embraces some things and excludes others." A feminist perspective from a more Durkheimian vantage point has been propounded in Shirley Ardener, ed., Women and Space: Ground Rules and Social Maps (London: Croom Helm, in association with the Oxford University Women's Studies Committee, 1981); see especially Shirley Ardener, "Ground Rules and Social Maps for Women: An Introduction," 11-34: "The fact that women do not control physical or social space directly does not necessarily preclude them from being determinants of, or mediators in, the allocation of space, even the occupation of political space" (17). Shay D. J. Cohen, The Beginnings of Jewishness: Boundaries, Varieties, Uncertainties (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999) applies the anthropologist Frederick Barth's argument that "an ethnic group was made by its boundaries" (8).

54In Georg Simmel, On Woman, Sexuality, and Love, trans. Guy Oakes (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984), 65-102; abridged version in Simmel, Selected Writings, 46-54.

55Geoffrey Ernest Richard Lloyd, Demystifying Mentalities (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 139-41.

56For the treatment of the topic in folk literature see Heidi Rosenbaum, "Nachbar, Nachbarin," in Enzyklopädie des Märchens vol. 9, ed. R. W. Brednich et al. (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1999), 1104-9.

57Cynthia M. Baker, "Rebuilding the House of Israel: Gendered Bodies and Domestic Politics in Roman Jewish Galilee, c. 135-300 C.E." (Ph.D. diss., Department of Religion in the Graduate School of Duke University, 1997; forthcoming, Stanford University Press). Also pertinent is Santiago Guijarro's conclusion regarding the sociology of space at the time: "The great majority of the inhabitants of Galilee were members of nucleated families. . . . The houses in which these families lived consisted, as a rule, of a single room, both in urban and in rural areas," ("The Family in First-Century Galilee," in Constructing Early Christian Families: Family as Social Reality and Metaphor, ed. Halvor Moxnes [London: Routledge, 1997], 42-65; quote at 60; emphasis added.

58Vincent Crapanzano, Hermes' Dilemma and Hamlet's Desire: On the Epistemology of Interpretation (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1992), 238-39; inspired by the "symbolic forms" of Gananath Obeyesekere, The Work of Culture: Symbolic Transformations in Psychoanalysis and Anthropology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), 274-84 (in turn inspired by Ernst Cassirer and Susan Langer).

59Joseph Heinemann, in his many works on Leviticus Rabbah, emphasized the artistic quality of the sermons and the composition of the chapters; my stress is primarily on the narrative art.

60Compare Sebastian Brock and Susan Ashbrook Harvey, Holy Women of the Syrian Orient (Berkeley: University of California Press, rev. ed. 1998), esp. the Preface by Susan Ashbrook Harvey, xv-xvi.

61Oded Irshai, "Priesthood and Leadership in Late Antiquity Jewish Palestine," in Jewish and Christian Culture in Byzantine Palestine, ed. Lee I. Levine (working title, forthcoming, in Hebrew).

62Joseph Yahalom, Priestly Palestinian Poetry: A Narrative Liturgy for the Day of Atonement (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1996, Hebrew), 56-57, and Poetry and Society in Jewish Galilee of Late Antiquity (Tel-Aviv: Hakibbuts Hameuchad, 1999), 111-13; Rachel Elior, The Merkabah Tradition and the Beginning of Early Jewish Mysticism: Three Temples and Three Visionary Priestly Traditions (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, forthcoming, Hebrew). Irshai, "Priesthood and Leadership."

63See, e.g., Halvor Moxnes, ed., Constructing Early Christian Families: Family as a Social Reality and Metaphor (London: Routledge, 1997), 2.

64A fascinating lecture delivered by Gideon Bohak of Tel-Aviv University in the spring of 2001 at the Institute for Advanced Studies at the Hebrew University answered my plea for the "pagan viewpoint."

65Pierre Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), 171-83.

66Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Steven Rendall (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984).

67Hasan-Rokem, Web of Life, 151-52.

68Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Raw and the Cooked: Introduction to a Science of Mythology, vol. 1, trans. John and Doreen Weightman (New York: Harper and Row, 1969), 1-32; Roland Barthes, Mythologies, selected and trans. Annette Lavers (Frogmore, St. Albans: Paladin, 1973), 109-59.

69Tzvetan Todorov, The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre, trans. Richard Howard (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1975), 24-40.

70Marie-Louise von Franz, Problems of the Feminine in Fairytales (Dallas, Tex.: Spring Publications, 1972); Bruno Bettelheim, The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales (New York: Vintage, 1977); Alan Dundes, "'To Love My Father All': A Psychoanalytic Study of the Folktale Source of King Lear," in his Interpreting Folklore (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1980), 211-20; Max Lüthi, The Fairytale as Art Form and Portrait of Man, trans. Jon Erickson (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984); among others.

71Simcha Fishbane, "'Most Women Engage in Sorcery': An Analysis of Sorceresses in the Babylonian Talmud," Jewish History 7 (1993): 27-42. See also Naomi Janowitz, Magic in the Roman World: Pagans, Jews, and Christians (London: Routledge, 2001), 86-96.

72The text is my translation from the London MS set by Mordecai Margulies (Margalioth) as the main version of his critical edition, Midrash Wayyikra Rabbah: A Critical Edition Based on Manuscripts and Genizah Fragments with Variants and Notes (Jerusalem: Wahrmann Books, 1972), 133-35. Other versions in Rabbinic literature: yShvu'ot, 6.5; bGittin 35a; Pesiqta Rabbati, ed. Meir Ish-Shalom (Vienna: Kaiser 1980), chap. 22, 217-18; Sefer Ha-Maasiyot, The Exempla of the Rabbis, ed. Moses Gaster (New York: Ktav, 1968; orig. pub. 1924), 82, no. 121b; Midrash Aggadah on the Pentateuch, ed. Salomon Buber (Lvov: Panta, 1894), 10, Leviticus 5:1.

73This may be the reason why Albeck thought the story "imprecise and obscure" (35): Hanoch Albeck, "Midrash Leviticus Rabbah," in Louis Ginzberg Jubilee Volume on the Occasion of his Seventieth Birthday, ed. Saul Lieberman, Shalom Spiegel, Solomon Zeitlin, and Alexander Marx (New York: The American Academy for Jewish Research, 1946), vol. 1 (Hebrew), 25-43. In the original mixed Hebrew and Aramaic text the indefinite character of the description is further enhanced by the semantic openness of the Aramaic verb a ] kh, which refers in these sentences to the finding (or rather inability to find) of the coins: Michael Sokoloff, A Dictionary of Jewish Palestinian Aramaic of the Byzantine Period (Ramat Gan: Bar Ilan University Press 1990), ] kh. The ambiguity would probably not have existed in the spoken form but has grown from the indefiniteness of vocalization of written Hebrew and Aramaic.

74See also Galit Hasan-Rokem, "Within Limits and Beyond: History and Body in Midrashic Texts," International Folklore Review 9 (1993): 5-12.

75Miron B. Lerner, "On the Midrashim Concerning the Ten Commandments," in Mehqerei Talmud-Talmudic Studies, ed. Yaakov Sussman and David Rosenthal (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1990, Hebrew), 217-36.

76William David Davies, The Setting of the Sermon on the Mount, Brown Judaic Studies 186 (Atlanta, Ga.: Scholars Press, 1989; orig. pub. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1964); on the issue of oaths see esp. 241. See also David Flusser, "The 'Torah' in the Sermon on the Mount," in his Jewish Sources in Early Christianity (Tel-Aviv: Sifriat Poalim, 1979, Hebrew; 5th printing 1994), 226-34; this specific passage in the Sermon is briefly mentioned on 229. And see Samuel Tobias Lachs, A Rabbinic Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Hoboken, N.J.: Ktav Publishing House Inc., 1987), 100-103; Lachs includes a number of references to Leviticus Rabbah (18, 19.2, 37), but not the text discussed here.

77See, e.g., Burton L. Visotsky, Fathers of the World: Essays on Rabbinic and Patristic Literature (Tübingen: Mohr [Siebeck], 1995), 82, and references there.

78Davies, Sermon on the Mount, 239ff., with special reference to Essene teachings. See also Anthony J. Saldarini, Matthew's Christian-Jewish Community (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), 212, n.8; specifically on oaths, see 151-56.

79Howard Clark Kee, "Early Christianity in the Galilee: Reassessing the Evidence from the Gospels," in The Galilee in Late Antiquity, ed. Lee I. Levine (New York: The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1992), 3-22, direct reference at 11; Anthony Saldarini, "The Gospel of Matthew and Jewish-Christian Conflict in the Galilee," in The Galilee in Late Antiquity, 23-38; Serge Ruzer, "The Technique of Composite Citation in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:21-22, 33-37)," Revue Biblique 103-1 (1996): 65-75.

80After I had completed drafting this book, Susan Weingarten kindly shared with me her manuscript "A Feast for Eyes: Women and Baking in the Talmudic Literature," in which she presents an insightful analysis of the Amnon and Tamar story, based on her tracing of the ethnography of baking in the ancient world and especially in Rabbinic culture. She stresses the fact that in Mishnah Qetubot 5.5 grinding flour and baking come first in the list of works a wife must perform for her husband. Her references also include Mishnah Shevi'it 5.8 where the problem of blurring boundaries between learned and am-ha-arets is correlated to the borrowing of sieves for flour between women neighbors. Her concern is mainly with the sexual associations of baking that seem to be minimally employed in the Leviticus Rabbah tale about the two baking neighbors.

81Its occurrence in earlier Rabbinic literature, in the Tannaitic text of Mekhilta De-Rabbi Yishmael, has been beautifully expounded by Daniel Boyarin in his path-breaking book Intertextuality and the Reading of Midrash (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990).

82Ivor H. Jones, The Matthean Parables: A Literary and Historical Commentary (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1995), 81, elaborates on Flusser's and Robert Lisle Lindsey's ideas regarding an original Hebrew Urevangelium, pointing mainly at Matthew.

83The translation is based on Boyarin, Intertextuality, 87, and David Stern, Parables in Midrash: Narrative and Exegesis in Rabbinic Literature (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1991), 65.

84Boyarin, Intertextuality, 87.

85Stern, Parables, 67.

86Eric Robertson Dodds, Pagan and Christian in an Age of Anxiety: Some Aspects of Religious Experiences from Marcus Aurelius to Constantine (New York: Norton, 1965).

87Charles H. Dodd, The Parables of the Kingdom (London: Fontana Books, 1961; orig. pub. 1935); Flusser, Jewish Sources in Early Christianity, 153. Flusser seems to understand Jesus' use of the term predominantly in terms of "the world to come" of Rabbinic literature (214, 223-24), but not necessarily in the eschatological sense (206).

88Susan Marie Praeder, The Word in Women's Worlds: Four Parables (Wilmington, Del.: Michael Glazier, 1988), 11-35, on this parable; for the discussion of the verb enevkruyen (Matthew), ekruyen (Luke), 26-27. See also Joachim Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1972; 2nd. rev. trans. based on S. H. Hooke, 1962), 146-49 The number of interpretations extant on each parable of Jesus makes it quite impossible to comprise all of them.

89Paul Ricoeur, "Listening to the Parables of Jesus," in The Philosophy of Paul Ricoeur: An Anthology of His Work, ed. Charles E. Reagan and David Stewart (Boston: Beacon Press, 1978), 239-45; quotes at 245, 242 (orig. pub. Criterion 13 [1974]:18-22).

90Flusser's discussion of the parables of Jesus in comparison with Rabbinic parables is based on the idea that parables are a "langue," in Jakobsonian terms; that is, that they are, in the terms of the folk narrative scholars Max Lüthi and Dov Noy, whom he quotes, a set system of motifs and forms; Flusser, "Jesus's Parables and the Parables in Rabbinic Literature," Jewish Sources in Early Christianity, 150-209.

91Tessa Rajak, "The Jewish Community and Its Boundaries," in The Jews among Pagans and Christians in the Roman Empire, ed. Judith Lieu, John North, and Tessa Rajak (London: Routledge, 1994), 9-28; quote at 25.

92See Peter Garnsey, Food and Society in Classical Antiquity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 121: "The fact that bread and wine were given a central place in Christian ritual practice and symbolism presumably reflects consumer preference for bread, and the predominantly urban environment of early Christianity. In the countryside bread was often not eaten at all." And even more generally: "The treatment of bread (collecting of crumbs, as for communication bread) suggests it has a sacramental nature" (Ardener, "Ground Rules and Social Maps," 23). Jacques Derrida has often delineated the relations between Judaism and Christianity so that the "differance" is posited on the former; see, e.g., Jacques Derrida, "Faith and Knowledge: The Two Sources of 'Religion' at the Limits of Reason Alone," in Religion, ed. Jacques Derrida and Gianni Vattimo (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1996), 55. A similar approach may be discerned in Daniel Boyarin's Dying for God: Martyrdom and the Making of Christianity and Judaism (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1999.) Here, however, the interpretation points at the differentiation as more or less symmetrical, with Christianity making a "stronger" use of transformation.

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