The dissertation addresses the problem that descriptions of the Festival of Sukkot in Tannaitic texts diverge from prescriptions for Sukkot in the Tanakh. Ancient Israel's autumn festival is remembered in the Tanakh as having marked the completion of the ingathering, included pilgrimage to a central shrine, copious sacrifices, seven days duration with an eighth day observance, "taking" of arboreal species accompanied by intense joy, and a septennial reading of "this Torah." Lev 23:42-43 provides an historical rationale for the hallmark feature of Sukkot, the booths. Tannaitic texts expand upon these rituals and attest to the existence of additional ones. Expansions and innovations include altar-circumambulations, carrying of ritual implements, as well as an all-night illumination ceremony and daily water libation in the temple. Whereas Leviticus provides an historical rationale for dwelling in booths, some Tannaitic texts infuse the booths with eschatological significance.
The central question the dissertation attempts to answer is: how might the divergence be explained? The methodology employed is an examination of references to Sukkot from the Tanakh to Tannaitic texts. The relevant passages are scrutinized chronologically (when possible) in their respective socio-historical, ideological, and/or literary contexts. The dissertation argues that the construction of Sukkot from the Tanakh to Tannaitic texts primarily results from an intricate interdependence of exegetical traditions, emergent rituals, and eschatological associations.
Jews who lived in the Province of Yehud beginning in the late sixth-century BCE inherited sacred recollections of an autumn festival marked by distinctive rituals, some of which invite the extraction of a deliverance theme. The Babylonian exile may have provided a setting for rich exegetical traditions surrounding the autumn festival material in the Torah and Former Prophets to flourish. One such tradition, represented in Hag 1:15b-2:9 and Zech 14, drew heavily on the deliverance theme and cast that theme into future time. A second tradition, represented in Ezra 3:1-6 and Neh 8:13-18, emphasized fidelity to the Torah through application in a new Sitz im Leben.
By the mid-second-century BCE, a framework had been erected that supported the perseverance of exegetical traditions stressing both deliverance and fidelity to the Torah. Jubilees and the Qumran Scrolls reinforce the deliverance theme and, drawing on earlier Sukkot material, further anchor it to eschatological expectation. Those sources, as well as Second Maccabees, attest to alterations and variations in some emergent rituals, and perhaps even the rise of new rituals. Although the apparent innovations may have been perceived by Jews as internal developments, some of them are peculiarly appropriate in light of Hellenistic customs. Second Maccabees supports the transferal of Sukkot rituals to a novel observance intended to celebrate the liberation of the temple from the control of the Greek imperial power.
The philosophical, so-called "rewritten biblical," and historical texts composed between the mid-first-century CE and the early second-century CE feature a trend toward stabilization of rituals, heightened intercultural discourse surrounding Sukkot, and a well-attended festival in Jerusalem that was the setting for kings and high priests to exert leadership. During that same period, textual and material remains related to the movements surrounding Athronges, Simon bar Giora, Jesus of Nazareth, and Simon bar Kokhba, attest to the appropriation of Sukkot motifs in order to reinforce messianic claims and/or rouse hopes of redemption.
Tannaitic texts and traditions preserve memories of Sukkot rituals in the temple, and contain discussions of Sukkot through the very beginning of the third century CE. Temple rites apparently drew out Sukkot's connection to the rainy season, and, for some worshipers, may also have been occasions of proleptic eschatological enactment. Following the temple's destruction in 70 CE, Tannaim engaged in extensive discussion of the rituals of the booth and arboreal species. Such halakhic detail is without precedent in earlier literature. Aggadic traditions in Tannaitic material align with the halakhic requirements and identify the booths as symbols of "clouds of glory" through midrashic exegesis of the biblical text. The exegetical traditions, emergent rituals, and eschatological associations, when woven together, yielded an elaborate and popular festival, adorned with distinctive leitmotifs, all of which apparently served to bolster confidence that the God of Israel grants eternal shelter.