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Did the Rabbis Believe in Agreus Pan? Rabbinic Relationships with Roman Power, Culture, and Religion in Genesis Rabbah 63

  • Moshe Simon-Shoshan (a1)

This article presents a reading of the story of the Patriarch's meeting with the Emperor Diocletian as it appears in the late antique midrashic compilation, Genesis Rabbah. The story encapsulates the complexity of the relationship between the rabbis and Roman political, cultural and religious hegemony, showing the rabbis as both in eternal conflict with the Roman Empire and its culture and, yet, in many ways, very Roman themselves. In the second half of the article, I argue that this story presents a unique perspective on rabbinic views of both “demons” and the Olympian gods themselves. I conclude by comparing and contrasting these views with the approaches of early Christian thinkers.

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1 Spiró, György, Captivity (trans. Wilkinson, Tim; Brooklyn, NY: Restless Books, 2015) 379.

2 Ozick, Cynthia, The Pagan Rabbi and Other Stories (New York: Dutton, 1983) 17.

3 The tone has been set by the two most prolific scholars of rabbinic Sage stories, Jonah Fraenkel in the previous generation and Jeffery Rubenstein in our own. See Fraenkel, Jonah, The Aggadic Narrative: Harmony of Form and Content (Tel-Aviv: Hakibbutz Hameuchad, 2001) [Hebrew]; Rubenstein, Jeffery, Talmudic Stories: Narrative Art, Composition and Culture (Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press, 1999); idem, Stories of the Babylonian Talmud (Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press, 2010). This emphasis is also true of most other leading scholars in the field, such as Daniel Boyarin, Shulamit Valler, Inbar Raveh, and Yonatan Feintuch. One important exception to this trend is Joshua Levinson. See the works by Levinson cited in the body of this paper.

4 This is, of course, not to minimize the important work currently being done to understand narratives from the Bavli in their Persian and Syriac Christian contexts. See, for example, Siegal, Michal Bar-Asher, Early Christian Monastic Literature and the Babylonian Talmud (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013); Secunda, Shai, The Iranian Talmud: Reading the Bavli in Its Sasanian Context (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013); Herman, Geoffrey, “Insurrection in the Academy: The Babylonian Talmud and the Paikuli Inscription,” Zion 79 (2014) 395407 [Hebrew].

5 The only extended discussion that I am aware of is Misgav Har-Peled, “The Dialogical Beast: The Identification of Rome With the Pig in Early Rabbinic Literature,” (PhD diss., Johns Hopkins University, 2013) 123–46. Har-Peled deals with some of the same issues raised here, but focuses overwhelmingly on the image of Diocletian as a pig herder. See also Ofra Meir, [Selected Stories from Genesis Rabbah] (Tel-Aviv: Hakibbutz Hameuchad, 2000) 108–111. The story has been repeatedly referenced in historical studies. For references, see Har-Peled as well as the works cited in the course of this article.

6 Reed, Annette Yoshiko and Dohrmann, Natalie B., “Rethinking Romanness, Provincializing Christendom,” in Jews, Christians, and the Roman Empire: The Poetics of Power in Late Antiquity (ed. Dohrmann, Natalie B. and Reed, Annette Yoshiko; Jewish Culture and Contexts; Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013) 115. Examples of this turn in the scholarship include Rosen-Zvi, Ishay, “Is the Mishnah a Roman Composition?,” in The Faces of Torah: Studies in the Texts and Contexts of Ancient Judaism in Honor of Steven Fraade (ed. Siegal, Michal Bar-Asher, et al.; Journal of Ancient Judaism Supplements 22; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprech, 2017) 487508; Natalie B. Dohrmann, “Law and Imperial Idioms: Rabbinic Legalism in a Roman World,” in Jews, Christians, and the Roman Empire, 63–78 and Lapin, Hayim, Rabbis as Romans: The Rabbinic Movement in Palestine 100–400 CE (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).

7 All translations adapted from Soncino, according to the Theodor-Albeck text, [Midrash Genesis Rabbah] (ed. J. Theodor and Ch. Albeck; 3 vols.; Jerusalem: Wahrman, 1965) 2:688–690. Major variants from MSS Vatican 30 and 60 are noted here. Parentheses mark words which appear only in Theodor-Albeck. Words followed by an asterisk appear only in the Vatican MSS. Words in square brackets have been added for clarity. This story appears in a shorter version in Yerushalmi Terumot 8:4, 46b-c. Many of the literary phenomena as well as the relevant context that I will address here are absent from the Yerushalmi.

8 Most MSS both here and in the Yerushalmi present a shortened version of the Emperor's name here, apparently referring to Diocletian's name before assuming power, Diocles.

9 The word galyyar is generally understood as an Aramaic version of the Latin galearius, a type of military servant. On this term, see Roth, Jonathan, The Logistics of the Roman Army at War: 264 BC–AD 235 (Leiden: Brill, 1999) 108.

10 Wilson, John F., “The Literary Sources,” in Paneas, Volume II: Small Finds and Other Studies (ed. Tzaferis, Vassilios and Israel, Shoshana; IAA Reports 38; Jerusalem: Israel Antiquities Authority, 2008) 195209; Wilson, John F. and Tzaferis, Vassilios, “An Herodian Capital in the North: Caesarea Philippi (Panias)” in The World of the Herods (ed. Kokkinos, Nikos; Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2007) 131–43.

11 Wilson, John F., Caesarea Philippi: Banias, the Lost City of Pan (London: I. B. Tauris, 2004) 3855. See also Friedland, Elise, “Graeco-Roman Sculpture in the Levant: The Marbles from the Sanctuary of Pan at Caesarea Philippi (Banias),” in The Roman and Byzantine Near East, Volume 2: Some Recent Archeological Research (ed. Humphrey, J. H.; JRA Supplementary Series 31; Portsmouth, RI: Journal of Roman Archeology, 1999) 722; Berlin, Andrea, “The Archaeology of Ritual: The Sanctuary of Pan at Banias/Caesarea Philippi,” BASOR 315 (1999) 2745.

12 Wilson, Caesarea, 47.

13 Aharon Oppenheimer, [Institutions of leadership and Tiberias], in [Tiberias: from its founding until the Muslim conquest] (ed. Yizhar Hirschfeld; Idan 11; Jerusalem: Yad Ben Zvi, 1988) 24–33; Seth Schwartz, Imperialism and Jewish Society: 200 B.C.E. to 640 C.E. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001) 145–53; Ze'ev Weiss, [Ancient synagogues in Tiberias and Hammath], in , 34–48.

14 On Diocletian's career, see Williams, Stephen, Diocletian and the Roman Recovery (London: Batsford, 1985).

15 Ibid., 71–88.

16 Ibid., 102–50.

17 Ibid., 153–62.

18 y. Ter. 8:4, 46b–c.

19 See Theodor-Albeck's discussion of this issue in , 690 n. 5.

20 Appelbaum, Alan, The Dynasty of the Patriarchs (TSAJ 156; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2013) 81117. Schwartz, Seth, “The Patriarch and the Diaspora,” JJS 50 (1999) 208–22, takes a more minimalist view of the status of the Patriarchate in the third century. At the very least, however, R. Judah Nesiah was remembered as an important and powerful patriarch by the later transmitters and editors of the rabbinic tradition.

21 Appelbaum, Dynasty, 99–104.

22 Gen. Rab. 38:13 and 44:13.

23 On the development of this typology and its origins in the early rabbinic period, see Berthelot, Katell, “La représentation juive de l'empire romain comme pendant et frère jumeau d'Israël,” Revue de l'histoire des religions 233 (2016) 163–64; idem, “The Rabbis Write Back! L'enjeu de la ‘parenté’ entre Israël et Rome-Ésaü-Édom,” Revue de l'histoire des religions 233 (2016) 165–92. See also Naiweld, Ron, “The Use of Rabbinic Traditions about Rome in the Babylonian Talmud,” Revue de l'histoire des religions 233 (2016) 255–85.

24 On Edom as Israel's other, see Bakhos, Carol, “Figuring (out) Esau: The Rabbis and Their Others,” JJS 53 (2007) 250–63. See also Stern, Sacha, Jewish Identity in Early Rabbinic Writings (AGJU 23, Leiden: Brill, 1994) 1821, and Kunin, Seth D., We Think What We Eat: Neo-Structuralist Analysis of Israelite Food Rules and Other Cultural and Textual Practices (JSOT Sup 412; London: T&T Clark, 2004) 213–17.

25 According to many rabbinic sources “dwelling in tents” refers to the study of Torah, e.g. Gen. Rab. 63:10.

26 Note that the printed editions have a very different text from the Theodor-Albeck text presented here.

27 This reading of the verse already appears in 4 Ezra 6:8–10. See Berthelot, “The Rabbis,” 182–83.

28 Berthelot, Katell, “Philo's Perception of the Roman Empire,” JSJ 42 (2011) 166–87.

29 Spilsbury, Paul, “Flavius Josephus on the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire,” JTS 54 (2003) 124.

30 See Gen. Rab. and Targumim on Gen 27:40.

31 Obad 1:21. See Lev. Rab. 13:5.

32 On the claim of Davidic descent for the Patriarchal line, see Appelbaum, Dynasty, 194–196.

33 For a survey of these sources, see Meir, Ofra, Rabbi Judah the Patriarch: Palestinian and Babylonian Portrait of a Leader (Tel-Aviv: Hakibbutz Hameuchad, 1999) 263–98 [Hebrew]. On efforts to identify “Antoninus” with a known emperor, see Cohen, Shaye J. D., “The Conversion of Antoninus,” The Talmud Yerushalmi and Graeco-Roman Culture (ed. Schäfer, Peter; 3 vols.; TSAJ 71, 79, 93; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1998) 1:141–42; Appelbaum, Dynasty, 40–47.

34 Gen. Rab. 84:3; Lev. Rab. 10:4.

35 y. Meg. 1:11, 72b; 3:2 74a.

36 Mek., Shirata 2; Gen. Rab. 34:10.

37 Mek., Shirata 6; Gen. Rab. 67:6.

38 y. Šeb. 6:1, 36b; y. Nid. 1:4, 49b = Gen. Rab. 20:6.

39 Mek., Vayehi Proem; ibid, 1; Gen. Rab. 75:5.

40 The tension between these two models can be mitigated somewhat by introducing a third narrative-historical framework from the Bible, not directly referenced in our story: Daniel's vision of the four kingdoms. Genesis Rabbah and other rabbinic texts regularly invoke this framework, consistently identifying Daniel's fourth kingdom with Rome. In this scheme, Rome is one of a series of gentile kingdoms that oppress the Jews, but still maintains a privileged place in the divine plan, as the final kingdom whose downfall will usher in the Messianic age. On the four kingdoms motif in Genesis Rabbah and other rabbinic sources, see Raviv, Rivka, “The Talmudic Formulation of the Prophecies of the Four Kingdoms in the Book of DanielJSIJ 5 (2006) 120 [Hebrew].

41 Eliav, Yaron, “Bathhouses as Places of Social and Cultural Interaction,” The Oxford Handbook of Jewish Daily Life in Roman Palestine (ed. Hezser, Catherine; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010) 609–10. On the bathhouse in Paneas, see Tzaferis, Vassilios, [Ten years of archaeological research at Banias], Qadmoniot 31 (1998) 217, at 12.

42 Ibid., 606–07. See also Lapin, 127–32.

43 Eliav, Bathhouses, 614–15.

44 Ibid., 607.

45 Indeed, Seth Schwartz (Imperialism, 129–161) argues that Tiberias in this period would have been virtually indistinguishable from a pagan-dominated city in the area.

46 Eliav, Bathhouses, 608–610. See also, Menachem Hirshman, [Stories about the bathhouse of Tiberias], in Levinson, Joshua, “Enchanting Rabbis: Contest Narratives between Rabbis and Magicians in Rabbinic Literature of Late Antiquity,” Tarbiz 75 (2005/6) 295328 [Hebrew].

47 Eliav, Yaron, “The Roman Bath as A Jewish Institution: Another Look at The Encounter Between Judaism and The Greco-Roman Culture,” JSJ, 31 (2000) 416–54.

48 Ibid., 423–24.

49 Jerome, Epist. 14.10, 45.4–5.

50 Epiphanius, Pan., 1.30.7:5–6.

51 Eliav, “Roman Bath,” 430; Levinson, “Enchanting Rabbis,” 299–300.

52 Veyne, Paul, Did the Greeks Believe in Their Myths?: An Essay on the Constitutive Imagination (trans. Wissing, Paula; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988).

53 For a bibliography and discussion of the scholarship on Jewish demonology in antiquity, see Ronis, Sara, “Intermediary Beings in Late Antique Judaism: A History of Scholarship,” CBR 14 (2015) 94120.

54 My use of the phrase “accept the reality of,” as opposed to “believe in,” is inspired by Muehlberger, Ellen’s discussion in her Angels in Late Antiquity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013) 1819.

55 Muehlberger, Angels, 52.

56 This account is synthesized from Martin, Dale, Inventing Superstition: From Hippocrates to the Christians (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004), and Sharon L. Coggan, Pandaemonia: A Study of Eusebius’ recasting of Plutarch's story of the “Death of Great Pan” (PhD diss., Syracuse University, 1992) 108–93.

57 Muehlberger, Angels, 30.

58 It should be noted that, as Muehlberger demonstrates in her book, ancient Christians subscribed to a wide variety of understandings of the nature and role of angels and demons. Nevertheless, as is clear from Muehlberger's account, there was a broad consensus among early Christians as to the fundamental dichotomy between angels and demons.

59 On the commonalities between rabbinic and early Christian demonology see, Rosen-Zvi, Ishay, “‘Yetser ha-ra’ and ‘Daimones’: A Shared Ancient Jewish And Christian Discourse,” in Jews and Christians in the First and Second Centuries (ed. Thomson, Peter and Schwartz, Joshua; CRINT 13; Leiden: Brill, 2014) 431–53.

60 This is the reading found in most MSS. MS Vatican 30 reads , in the first appearance of the word (101v). The second appearance in Vatican 30 (102r) as well as the first appearance in Vatican 60 read . MS Oxford 147 reads . Editio Princeps (Constantinople, 1512) reads , hence my vocalization. However, in the second appearance of the word, several witnesses read the first three letters as rather than : Theodor-Albeck, following MSS London and Stuttgart, reads , and Vatican 60 reads . In the Yerushalmi, MSS London and Moscow read , whereas Leiden reads with the other MSS presenting variants of this reading.

61 Sokoloff, Michael, A Dictionary of Jewish Palestinian Aramaic of the Byzantine Period (Baltimore: Bar Ilan University Press and Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002) s.v. see also s.v. .

62 Theodor and Albeck, 689 n. 4.

63 Jastrow, Marcus, A Dictionary of the Targumim, The Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi and the Midrashic Literature (London: Luzac and Putam, 1903) s.v. .

64 Krauss, Samuel, Griechische und Latinische Lehnwörter im Talmud, Midrasch und Targum (Berlin: Calvary, 1899) s.v. .

65 PW 1,1:891, s.v. “Agreus,” definition number 2; Smith, William, A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (3 vols.; London: John Murray, 1880) 1:75, s.v. “Agreus.” It should be noted that this appellation and related forms can sometimes refer to other gods as well. See LSJ s.v. ’Aγρέτης, ’Aγριώνιος and Montanari, Franco, The Brill Dictionary of Ancient Greek (Leiden: Brill, 2015) s.v. ἀγρεύς, ἀγρευτής.

66 See The Greek Anthology (trans. W.R. Paton; 5 vols.; LCL 67–68, 84–86; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1969) 1:305 and 391; Kaibel, Georgius, Epigrammata graeca ex lapidibus conlecta (Berlin: Reimer, 1878) 498, epigram 1104.

67 ὁ Πὰν παρὰ ’Αθηναίοις, Hesychii Alexandrini Lexicon (ed. Kurt Latte; 3 vols.; Hauniae: Munksgaard, 1953) 1:30, s.v. Ἀγρεύς.

68 Nonnos, Dion. 14.67-95, (Nonnos, Dionysiaca: Books 1–15 [trans. W. H. D. Rouse; LCL 344; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1962] 476–79).

69 See above n. 60.

70 Borgeaud, Phillippe, The Cult of Pan in Ancient Greece (trans. Atlas, K. and Redfield, J.; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988) 86. For further references to Pan's dancing, see 53, 55.

71 Ibid., 236 n. 105. For further references to Pan's laughter, see 54, 107.

72 Ibid., 150.

73 Nonnos, Dion. 5.297 (LCL 344: 190–91). See also Borgeaud, Cult of Pan, 153.

74 Lane Fox, Robin, Pagans and Christians (New York: Knopf, 1986) 130.

75 Coggan, Pandaemonia, 87–88.

76 This runs counter to Saul Lieberman's claim that, unlike ancient Christian and Jewish Hellenistic polemics against idolatry, the rabbis attack idolatry in general but “do not denounce the Greek gods specifically” (Hellenism in Jewish Palestine [New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1950] 118).

77 On such parodies in rabbinic literature and ancient literature in general, see Levinson, Joshua, “Fatal Charades and the Death of Titus,” Jerusalem Studies in Hebrew Literature 19 (2003) 2345 [Hebrew].

78 See Simons-Shoshan, Moshe, Stories of the Law: Narrative Discourse and the Construction of Authority in the Mishnah (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012) 7.

79 See Knohl, Israel, “Biblical Attitudes to Gentile Idolatry,” Tarbiz 64 (1994) 512 [Hebrew]; Segal, Michael, “Who is the ‘Son of God’ in 4Q246?DSD 21 (2014) 289312; idem, The Book of Jubilees: Rewritten Bible, Redaction, Ideology and Theology (JSJSup 117; Leiden: Brill, 2007) 240–44. Of particular interest for our purposes is Ps 96:5 and the LXX there (95:5), which translates elilim as δαιμόνια.

80 Plutarch, Def. orac. 17.

81 Fox, Pagans and Chritians, 137; Coggan, Pandaemonia, 162–170. For the sources and theological context of these beliefs, see Daniélou, Jean, A History of Early Christian Doctrine Before the Council of Nicaea, Volume Two: Gospel Message and Hellenistic Culture, (trans. and ed. Baker, John Austin; Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1973) esp. 1718, 183–94, 434–36.

82 Fox, Pagans and Chritians, 130.

83 Eusebius, Praep. ev. 5.17. Coggan, Pandaemonia, is entirely devoted to an explication of this passage and of Eusebius's understanding of gods as demons.

84 Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 7.16 (NPNF 2 1, digital version at Christian Classics Ethereal Library,

85 Ibid.

86 Ibid., 7.17.

87 Wilson, Caesarea, 85–86.

88 See also, Eusebius, Praep. ev. 3.11, 14; 5.6–7.

89 On Eusebius's integration of imperial ideology with Christian theology, see Martin, Superstition, 222–26.

*I would like to thank Katell Berthelot, Yair Furstenberg, Naomi Goldstein, Emily Kneebone, Shlomo Naeh, Michael Satlow, Michael Segal, Jeremy Simon, Bracha Shoshan, and Joshua Weinstein, who generously gave of their time and expertise over the course of the research and writing of this article. Any errors remain my responsibility alone.

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