This dissertation analyzes the literary techniques and the cultural background of Late Antique rabbinic parodies that target rabbinic and Christian texts.
Over the last decades, it has become commonly acceptable to treat rabbinic texts as literature. More recently, scholars have begun to situate post-Constantinian rabbinic Judaism more securely within its dialogue with Christianity. Simultaneously, we have seen an increasing, yet sporadic recognition of rabbinic satire and parody. I argue that rabbinic authors, generally attuned to incongruence and literary play, engaged in parody to respond to the most palpable cultural tensions of their times.
The dissertation is organized as an introduction, four chapters, and a conclusion. In the introduction I discuss previous scholarly references to rabbinic parodies. Analyzing the prevailing circumstances detrimental to recognizing rabbinic parodies, I present measures for overcoming these obstacles. I also develop a definition of parody based on the elements of literary play, imitation of a target text, and intentional incongruence.
In Chapters one and two I focus on Palestinian rabbinic parodies. The authors of this genre were a product of their status as a minority within the Christian Empire and were influenced by the Christianization of Hellenistic culture. In Chapter one I present a parody of a rabbinic homily, a target text, which is in turn influenced by Encratite teetotalism. In Chapter two, I discuss a parody of the Sermon on the Mount, which targets the Sermon’s Greek patristic interpretation.
In Chapters three and four I focus on Babylonian rabbinic parodies that are informed by the conflict between Christian Rome and the Sasanian Empire, and the ensuing separation between the Palestinian and the Babylonian rabbinic communities. In Chapter three I present a Talmudic parody of the Sermon on the Mount, which combines a critique of the sermon’s Syriac Christian interpretation with an attack on Christian claims to the Land of Israel. In Chapter four I discuss a Talmudic parody of the Palestinian rabbinic dream book.
In the conclusion I consider how my examples relate to the phenomenon of rabbinic parodies in general, and what the discussed parodies can teach us about rabbinic literature and its approach towards incongruence and humor in general.