This paper explores the rhetoric of secrecy in Hekhalot literature, a corpus of Jewish mystical and magical writings from late antiquity. I argue that the essential relationship between secrecy and mystery that characterizes the tradition of “western esotericism” does not obtain for Hekhalot literature. Instead, the discourse of esotericism in Hekhalot literature relates to restricted knowledge of proper ritual speech and action (“secrets”), rather than to paradoxical truths about the divine (“mysteries”).
This paper traces the historical development of the discourse of violent retribution in Jewish culture over the course of Late Antiquity. The paper argues that, although Jews had long engaged in anti-Roman rhetoric, Jewish anti-imperial sentiment intensified in the fifth to seventh centuries CE. This heightened level of antipathy toward the Roman state is perhaps best exemplified by a number of texts that present tableaux of graphic violence directed against the figure of the Roman emperor. The paper shows that these fantasies of revenge redeployed and inverted specific elements of Roman imperial ideology and practice, while at the same time internalizing the pervasive stereotype of Jews in sixth- and especially seventh-century Christian sources as violent troublemakers. The paper argues that, in attempting to assert some measure of control over the "symbolic weapons" of religious violence at play in their society, the Jewish creators of this vivid discourse of retributive justice colluded with their Christian counterparts in constructing the Jew as a member of an oppositional and even dangerous religious minority.
The Jewish and Christian inhabitants of twelfth-century Rome viewed the urban landscape of their city through the lens of its ancient past. Their perception of Rome was shaped by a highly localized topography of cultural memory that was both shared and contested by Jews and Christians. Our reconstruction of this distinctively Roman perspective emerges from a careful juxtaposition of the report of Benjamin of Tudela’s visit to Rome preserved in his Itinerary and various Christian liturgical and topographical texts, especially those produced by the canons of the Lateran basilica. These sources demonstrate that long-standing local claims regarding the presence in Rome of ancient artifacts from the Jerusalem Temple and their subsequent conservation in the Lateran acquired particular potency in the twelfth century. Jews and Christians participated in a common religious discourse that invested remains from the biblical and Jewish past reportedly housed in Rome with symbolic capital valued by the two communities and that thus fostered both contact and competition between them. During this pivotal century and within the special microcosm of Rome, Jews and Christians experienced unusually robust cultural and social interactions, especially as the Jews increasingly aligned themselves with the protective power of the papacy.