This article investigates the notion of memorization in rabbinic and Roman spatial practices. The Greco-Roman mnemonic technique, in which space was a structuring device for the memorized ideas, words or images, has been extensively studied. Scholars have also demonstrated how such a technique was applied in rabbinic systems of memorization and the arrangement of oral traditions. Nevertheless, very little has been written about the role of mnemonics in the organization of space itself. In the first part of the article I use the comparison between the Corpus Agrimensorum Romanorum (first to fifth centuries CE collection of illuminated manuals of land survey and urban planning) and tractate Eruvin to explore references to cities in the shape of Greek letters, which are almost identical in the two texts. The fact that a list of cities in the shape of letters was used in the Roman corpus as a mnemonic device for the memorization of urban layouts suggests that the rabbis corresponded with such methods in their spatial formulations of the Sabbath Boundary. In the second part of the article I investigate the rabbinic system of forgotten produce (shikheḥah) that maps fields in order to determine which crops were unintentionally left behind by the farmer and consequently belonged to the poor. As I demonstrate, many of the spatial and visual principles applied by the rabbis in this system echo the mnemonic principles described in the Roman work on memorization Rhetorica Ad Herennium. The primary purpose of the article, however, is not merely to illuminate an instance of cultural exchange, but rather to point to the profound link established by mnemonics between space, image and language. The mechanism of organizing words and ideas spatially and visually affected the ways in which space was perceived and was, itself, organized.
This article examines the evidence for the use of portrait sculpture on sarcophagi belonging to members of the Jewish community of Rome. The use of the “learned figure” motif, commonly employed in Roman sarcophagus portraiture and by Jewish patrons, is highlighted, and possible creative appropriations of the trope in Jewish contexts are raised. It is further argued that, among Jewish sarcophagus patrons, the decision to include funerary portraiture went hand in hand with the decision to adopt popular and conventional Roman styles and motifs, and to engage Roman cultural and visual resources. In other words, Jewish patrons who chose sarcophagi with portraits also seem to have been the readiest to make use of the visual resources of Roman funerary culture to orchestrate self-narratives on their sarcophagi. Finally, it is cautioned that while the limited examples (five) suggest a mastery of Roman culture and a correspondingly high degree of acculturation among certain Jewish patrons, we should be wary of reading such sarcophagi as evidence of certain Jews abandoning a Jewish identity in favor of a Roman one—or the Jewish community in favor of the Roman polis and its civic structures—as narratives of funerary art never capture the totality of the deceased’s identity.