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The University of Southampton
The Parkes Institute

The Montefiore Lecture 2015 Event

Claude Montefiore
8 December 2015
Lecture Theatre C Avenue Campus University of Southampton SO17 1BF

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Event details

Part of the Parkes Institute annual lecture series and is the oldest lecture in the University's calendar.

'What did the Palestinian Rabbis know about Early Byzantine Christianity? Ancient Polemics and Contemporary Politics of Identity'

Classical Rabbinic Judaism came to full flourish between the fourth and the seventh centuries of the Common Era, in an epoch that saw the Christianization of the Roman Empire in full swing. And yet, the Palestinian rabbinic literature, written in the new Christian Holy Land, hardly makes mention of this dramatic reversal of fates. Contemporaneous scholars, swept away by positivist rigour and a deep distrust of the possibility of Christian “influence” on the Talmud, therefore have good reasons to claim that the rabbis were uninterested in or even entirely ignorant of Christian culture.

If one digs a little deeper, however, one finds a rather different picture. The Palestinian Talmud and the so-called Amoraic Midrashim, all redacted between the middle of the fourth and the fifth century, show a dazzling array of topics firmly established in the times’ patristic discourses as well as in popular Christian practice. After Constantine, the rabbis begin to speak about a broad range of topics that was almost entirely absent in the earlier rabbinic literature: martyrdom, asceticism, historiography, hagiography, tours of hell, the science of dreams, and many more.

How do we account for this shift, which seems neatly to “rabbanize” and to eclipse Christian culture without even giving it a name? And how do we explain the fact that both mainstream Jewish culture as well as major strands of academic research continue to treat the Palestinian rabbinic literature as if it did not reflect the historical context of its time of redaction in the slightest? This lecture probes rabbinic texts in dialogue with fourth and fifth century sources popular in Christian Palestine and seeks to account for the rabbis’ rhetorics of silent polemics as well for to their contemporaneous counterparts.

Speaker information

Dr Holger Zellentin ,University of Nottingham,Holger Zellentin is Associate Professor in Judaism at the University of Nottingham. He has previously taught at Berkeley and Rutgers (New Brunswick), and holds a doctorate from Princeton University. His publications include The Qur’an’s Legal Culture: The Didascalia Apostolorum as a Point of Departure (2013), Rabbinic Parodies of Jewish and Christian Literature (2011), and Heresy and Identity in Late Antiquity (2007). For his work on Jewish and Qur’anic Studies he has received a 2014 Philip Leverhulme Prize and he will be a British Academy Mid-Career Fellow in 2016.

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