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This study constitutes the first comprehensive examination of rabbinic body language represented in Palestinian rabbinic sources of late antiquity. Catherine Hezser examines rabbis’ appearance and demeanor, spatial movement, gestures, and facial expressions on the basis of literary and social-anthropological methods and theories. She discusses the various forms of rabbis’ non-verbal communication in the context of Graeco-Roman and ancient Christian literary sources and in connection with the material culture of Roman and early Byzantine Palestine. Catherine Hezser convincingly shows that in rabbinic literature body language serves as an important means of rabbis’ self-fashioning. Rabbinic texts create the image of a particularly Jewish type of intellectual who functioned and competed for adherents within the highly visual and body-conscious environment of late antiquity.


In late antiquity most of the slaves owned by Jewish slave owners in Roman Palestine seem to have been domestic slaves. These slaves formed an integral part of the Jewish household and played an important role within the family economy. In a number of respects the master-slave relationship resembled the wife-husband, child-father, and student-teacher relationships, and affectionate bonds between the slave and his master (or nursling) would have an impact on relationships between other members of the family. Master and slave were linked to each other through mutual ties of dependency which counteracted the basic powerlessness of slaves. On the other hand, slaves had to suffer sexual exploitation and were considered honorless. Rabbinic sources reveal both similarities and differences between Jewish and Graeco-Roman attitudes toward slaves. The Jewish view of the master-slave relationship also served as the basis for its metaphorical use.

In: Journal for the Study of Judaism