Theses Doctoral

The Memory of the Temple in Palestinian Rabbinic Literature

Schumer, Nathan S.

This dissertation concerns the memory of the Jerusalem Temple in rabbinic literature, arguing that different groups of rabbis continued to remember and recall the Temple after its destruction in 70 CE for a series of changing memorial purposes. This dissertation concerns two discrete questions about the role of the Temple in rabbinic literature: why did the rabbis remember the Temple in their various texts after its destruction in 70 CE and why were they often so accurate in their memories of the Temple and people that lived in the Second Temple period? Previous scholarship on this question has primarily argued that rabbinic memories of the Temple were a means to create rabbinic authority. This explanation does not account rabbinic literature’s accuracy concerning the Temple and the figures of the Second Temple period. My argument is that the project of rabbinic memory of the Temple is far more complex, and I argue that each rabbinic collection has its own particular set of memorial purposes, which motivated its commemoration of the Temple. Indeed, the very object of commemoration shifts between different rabbinic collections, which shows the malleability of rabbinic accounts of the Second Temple period.
For this dissertation, I draw on the methodology of social memory, looking at how the past was updated and changed to fit the present. This provides a conceptual model for understanding the Temple and the Second Temple period in rabbinic literature, as well as how its portrayal was updated and changed by various groups of rabbis. Social memory studies suggests that we focus on the historical conditions in which these particular groups of rabbis operated, providing a means to write a history of the memory of the Temple. At the same time, social memory also provides a conceptual model for addressing the historicity of rabbinic recollections of the past. Drawing on this model of social memory, I argue that rabbinic accounts of figures and events from the Second Temple period were accurate to a certain degree, but that these accounts were constructed in the service of a set of internal rabbinic goals and biases that govern the transmission of these memories. Each chapter of the dissertation examines a different aspect of the rabbinic memory of the Temple and how it reports and reimagines the memories of the Second Temple period.
Chapter 1 focuses on the Temple in the first century CE, examining the descriptions of the Temple found in the works of the historian Josephus and descriptions of dedications to the Temple. The evidence of Josephus and these dedications suggest that Jews and non-Jews alike saw the Temple as a commemorative site. This chapter is an explanatory prologue to the main body of my dissertation, which focuses on rabbinic literature. This claim of Chapter 1 frames my argument about the function of the Temple in the Mishnah in Chapter 2, where it continued to function as a commemorative site. Chapter 2 primarily concerns ritual narratives, descriptions of the Temple and its rituals that. I claim that one purpose of these narratives is to serve as a memorial of the destroyed Temple. Drawing on this account of the Mishnah, I turn to Mishnah Middot, a tractate that provides the measurements of the Temple’s space. I argue that Middot uses the commemoration of individuals and events from the Second Temple period to construct a narrative of the Jewish past. The rabbis of the Mishnah adapt and change the commemorative function of the Temple in Mishnah Middot.
In the late antique rabbinic collections the Talmud Yerushalmi and Eichah Rabbah, the focus of rabbinic memory shifts from the Temple to the Second Temple period more generally. I argue that stories in these different collections portray the Second Temple period as a particular sort of historical time, characterized by Jewish greatness. This Second Temple past is a time of moral and material superiority to the rabbinic present. I argue that this discourse reflects the context of Roman rule, as the rabbis sought to craft a usable and evocative Jewish past, which reminded Jews of their shared historical experience before Roman rule.
Chapter 3 concerns moral exemplarity as a means of commemorating the Second Temple period, focusing on stories in the Talmud Yerushalmi and Palestinian amoraic midrash collections. I provide close readings of three stories in which figures from the Second Temple period (who often seem to have been real individuals in the Second Temple period) are transformed into moral exemplars, embodiments of moral virtues or vices. Chapter 4 turns to another discourse around the Second Temple past, which is found in the Yerushalmi and Eichah Rabbah (ER). I argue that this discourse, the “Romanization” of the Second Temple period, uses the Roman convivial meal and the Roman province of Palestine to describe the greatness of the Jews in the Second Temple period, projecting these institutions back onto the Second Temple past. This strategy of displaced anachronism and misremembering commemorates Jewish greatness in the Second Temple period, a potential form of resistance to Roman rule, but the highly Roman means for doing so show the degree to which the rabbis are embedded in their Roman provincial context.


  • thumnail for Schumer_columbia_0054D_13782.pdf Schumer_columbia_0054D_13782.pdf application/pdf 1.9 MB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Schwartz, Seth
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 23, 2017