A. The books of the Evangelists and the books of the minim they do not save from a fire [on the Sabbath], They are allowed to burn up where they are, they and [even] the references to the Divine Name that are in them. . . .
B. Said R. Tarfon, "May I bury my sons if such things come into my hands and I do not burn them, and even the references to the Divine Name which are in them. And if someone was running after me, I should escape into a temple of idolatry, but I should not go into their houses of worship.
C. "For idolaters do not recognize the Divinity in denying him, but these recognize the Divinity and deny him. About them Scripture states, 'Behind the door and the doorpost you have set your symbol for deserting me, you have uncovered your bed' (Is. 57:8)."
In this passage, to be sure, the Christians are a variety of Israel, but they form merely a heretical group. They know the truth but deny it—a kind of exasperated judgment Christians would later lay on Israel. But a view of this kind hardly generates a cosmic theory of who the Christians are in the setting of Israel. Christians play no role in history, because they do not form a social group, an entity demanding attention, the way Israel does—and, as we shall see, the way Rome does.
Sages make history through the thoughts they think and the rules they lay down. In such a context, we find no interest either in the outsiders and their powers, or in the history of the empires of the world, or even less, in redemption and the messianic fulfillment of time. The statement has long persuaded scholars that the rabbinic authority recognized the difference between pagans and those minim under discussion, reasonably assumed to be Christian. I see no reason to differ from the established consensus. The upshot is simple: when Christians come under discussion, they appear as a source of exasperation, not as "Rome," that is, Israel's counterpart and opposite, let alone as ruler of the world and precursor to Israel's final triumph in history. We stand a considerable distance from deep thought about Israel and Rome, Jacob and Esau, this age and the coming one. What we witness is a trivial dispute within the community about heretics who should, but do not, know better. And when we hear that mode of thought, we look back with genuine disappointment upon the materials at hand. They in no way consider the world-historical issues that would face Israel, and the reason, I maintain, is that, at the point at which the document in which the passage occurs was brought to closure, no one imagined what would ultimately take place: the conversion of the empire to Christianity, the triumph of Christianity on the stage of history.
We turn, finally, to the usage in the Tosefta of the words Esau, Edom, Ish-mael, and Rome, which in just a moment will come to center stage. Relying on H. Y. Kasovsky (1932-61, vols. 1, 3, 6), we find pretty much the same sort of usages, in the same proportions, as the Mishnah has already shown us. Specifically, Edom is a biblical people, T. Yeb. 8:1, Niddah 6:1, Qid. 5:4. Ishmael is a proper name for several sages. More important, Ishmael never stands for Rome. And Rome itself? We have Todor of Rome (T. Bes. 2:15), Rome as a place where people live, e.g., "I saw it in Rome" (T. Yoma 3:8), "I
taught this law in Rome" (T. Nid. 7:1, T. Miq. 4:7). And that is all. Rome undergoes no process of symbolization, plays no role in an apocalyptic conception of history. Rome is like any other place, only more important; a mere metropolis, not the counterweight to Israel in the history of the world from creation to salvation.
If we were to propose a thesis on the social theory of "Rome" and of "Christianity," or of the people that was a no-people or of the people that is made up of the peoples, in the Talmud and Midrash, based on the evidence at hand, it would not produce many propositions. Sages in the documents we have rapidly reviewed do not theorize on such matters; we detect not the slightest effort to symbolize these closely related figures. That fact takes on importance when, in Leviticus Rabbah, we do see a substantial effort to characterize, through symbolization, the Rome that has become Christian. But for the present writings Rome is a place, and no biblical figures or places prefigure the place of Rome in the history of Israel. That is so even though the authors of the Mishnah and the Tosefta knew full well who had destroyed the Temple and closed of Jerusalem and what these events had meant. Christianity plays no role of consequence; no one takes the matter very seriously. Christians are people who know the truth but deny it. To state the negative: Rome does not stand for Israel's nemesis and counterpart, Rome did not mark an epoch in the history of the world, Israel did not encompass Rome in Israel's history of humanity, and Rome did not represent one of the four monarchies— the last and the worst, prior to Israel's rule. To invoke a modern category, Rome stood for a perfectly secular matter: a place where things happened. Rome in no way symbolized anything beyond itself. And Israel's sages did not find they had to take seriously the presence or claims of Christianity. So much for books brought to closure, in the case of the Mishnah, at ca. a.d. 200, and, in the case of the Tosefta perhaps a hundred years later (no one knows). We come now to the year 400 or so, to documents produced in the century after such momentous events as the conversion of Constantine to Christianity, the catastrophe of Julian's failure in attempting to rebuild the Temple, the repression of paganism and its affect on Judaism, the Christianization of the Holy Land, and, it appears, the conversion of sizable numbers of Jews in the Land of Israel to Christianity and the consequent Christianization of Palestine (no longer, in context, the Land of Israel at all).
What is the alternative to the sages' use, in the Mishnah and the Tosefta, of the sort of symbols just now examined? Let us briefly place into context the apocalyptic treatment of history we are about to examine in Leviticus Rabbah. We do so by seeing how Jerome, great exegete of the Bible and contemporary of the framers of our documents, dealt with the symbols of the animals of Leviticus 11. When we turn to Jerome's comment on Leviticus 11:3, we find a preparation for the treatment of the same matter in Leviticus Rabbah, namely, the apocalyptic reading of the humble matters of the beasts Israel may and may not eat:
The Jew is single-hoofed and therefore he is unclean. The Manichean is single-hoofed and therefore he is unclean. And since he is single-hoofed he does not chew what he eats, and what has once gone into his stomach he does not bring up again and chew and make fine, so that what had been coarse would return to the stomach fine. This is indeed a matter of divine mystery. The Jew is single-hoofed, for he believes in only one Testament and does not ruminate; he only reads the letter and things over nothing, nor does he seek anything deeper. The Christian, however, is cloven-hoofed and ruminates. That is, he believes in both Testaments and he often ponders each Testament, and whatever lies hidden in the letter he brings forth in the spirit. (In Ramsay 1985, 25-26)
This kind of writing is hardly history at all, or so it would seem. But apocalyptic bears a judgment of history as well, and the writing of this kind of reflection serves a deep purpose indeed, even within the historical realm.
What we are about to examine is a statement in which Rome is represented as only Christian Rome can have been represented: it looks kosher but it is unkosher. Pagan Rome cannot ever have looked kosher, but Christian Rome, with its appeal to ancient Israel, could and did and moreover claimed to. It bore some traits that validate, but lacked others that validate—just as Jerome said of Israel. It would be difficult to find a more direct confrontation between two parties to an argument. Now the issue is the same—who is the true Israel?—and the proof-texts are the same; moreover, the proof-texts are read in precisely the same way. Only the conclusions differ.
The polemic represented in Leviticus Rabbah by the symbolization of Christian Rome makes the simple point that, first, Christians are no different from, and no better than, pagans; they are essentially the same. The Christians' claim to form part of Israel, then, requires no serious attention. Since Christians came to Jews with precisely that claim, the sages' response—they are another Babylonia—bears a powerful polemic charge. But that is not the whole story, as we see. Second, just as Israel had survived Babylonia, Media, Greece, so would it endure to see the end of Rome (whether pagan, whether Christian). But there is a third point. Rome really does differ from the earlier, pagan empires, and that polemic shifts the entire discourse, once we hear its symbolic vocabulary properly. Christianity was not merely part of a succession of undifferentiated modes of paganism. The symbols assigned to Rome attributed worse, more dangerous traits than those assigned to the earlier empires. The pig pretends to be clean, just as the Christians give the signs of adherence to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. That much the passage concedes. For the pig is not clean, exhibiting some, but not all, of the required indications, and Rome is not Israel, even though it shares Israel's Scripture. That position, denying to Rome in its Christian form a place in the family of Israel, forms the counterpart to the view of Aphrahat that Israel today is no longer Israel—again, a confrontation on issues. Since the complete passage is given in the appendix to this chapter, I present only the critical point at which the animals that are invoked include one that identifies Rome as partly kosher, partly not, therefore more dangerous than anyone else.
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