A Funny Thing Happened on My Way to Sodom

In: Journal for the Study of Judaism
Eliezer Segal Dept. of Classics and Religion, SS 548, University of Calgary Calgary ab T2N 1N4 Canada

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As an illustration of the phenomena of “filtered absorption” or “controlled incorporation” of Greek and Roman culture into late classical Judaism, this article focuses on the depiction of Abraham’s servant, identified as Eliezer, in a passage in b. Sanh 109b, which consists largely of confrontations—several of them of a decidedly humorous or satirical nature—with the perverse laws, judges, and citizens of biblical Sodom. The manner in which Eliezer’s midrashic personality and role were fashioned by the rabbis evokes a familiar character from classical literature, namely the “clever slave” [servus callidus], a figure that was cultivated most famously by Plautus and which became a popular stock character in Roman theater. The article tries to reconstruct how the midrashic homilist adapted the Latin dramatic conventions for Jewish religious and exegetical purposes.Special attention is paid to the Talmud’s incorporation of the well-known motif of the “Procrustean bed”; noting the methodological and textual obstacles that plague our attempts to identify exactly which versions of that legend were being used by the Talmudic authors.

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