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T

HR
Harvard
Theological
Review

102:4

OCTOBER 2009
ISSN 0017-8160

HTR

Harvard Theological Review
102:4
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Must Religion be a ConversationStopper?
Stuart Rosenbaum
Baylor University

Richard Rorty has suggested that religion is a conversation-stopper.1 Jeffrey Stout
has questioned this claim, gently chiding Rorty for his animus toward increasing
assertiveness on the part of religiously committed individuals in their address
of public issues.2 Stout concludes that “conversation is the very thing that is not
stopped when religious premises are introduced in a political argument.”3 He is
convinced that Rorty is overly sensitive on this matter and believes, with Nicholas
Wolterstorff and others, that religious people in a pluralistic democracy have
not only the right but also the responsibility to share their convictions and the
reasoning that leads to their opinions on vital moral and social issues. Stout quotes
Wolterstorff as follows:
It belongs to the religious convictions of a good many religious people in
our society that they ought to base their decisions concerning fundamental
issues of justice on their religious convictions. They do not view as an option whether or not to do so. It is their conviction that they ought to strive
for wholeness, integrity, integration in their lives: that they ought to allow
the Word of God, the teachings of the Torah, the command and example of
Jesus, or whatever, to shape their existence as a whole, including, then, their
social and political existence. Their religion is not, for them, about something
other than their social and political existence; it is also about their social and
political existence. Accordingly, to require of them that they not base their

1
Richard Rorty, “Religion as a Conversation Stopper,” in Philosophy and Social Hope (New
York: Penguin, 1999) 168–74. Originally pubished in Common Knowledge 3 (1994) 1–6.
2
Jeffrey Stout, Democracy and Tradition (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2004)
ch. 3, esp. 85–91, “Is Religion a Conversation-Stopper?”.
3
Ibid., 90.

HTR 102:4 (2009) 393–409

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HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW

decisions and discussions concerning political issues on their religion is to
infringe, inequitably, on the free exercise of their religion.4

In what follows, I revisit Stout’s question, “is religion a conversation-stopper?” and
explain why he believes that Rorty is inappropriately skeptical regarding the role
of religion in public life. I then show why Rorty is in fact correct to be skeptical
about bringing religious views into discussions of significant public issues.5
Stout, along with Wolterstorff and others, is overly optimistic, and his critique of
Rorty reveals his undue optimism. I explain why current perspectives on religion
justify Rorty’s skepticism about bringing it into public discourse. I also suggest
a different perspective on religions that might enable the sort of optimism Stout
embraces. The change of perspective I suggest involves taking our religious views
not as justified or warranted by documents, sources, traditions, and revelations but
rather as embedded in or deriving from those documents, sources, traditions, and
revelations. The latter way of understanding our religious views opens them to
intellectual strategies of genealogy, or to explanatory strategies that contextualize
them within particular traditions of culture and history. I conclude this essay with
two relevant points. The first is that neither justifying nor explaining the sources
of one’s religious views, the strategies roughly of justifying religious beliefs and
providing genealogies of them—tools for “deconstructing” them as some would
have it—can claim proper priority in our religious lives. Explaining the sources of
our commitments is as trenchantly definitive of those commitments as is providing
dialectical justification for them. (William James discerns and exploits this fact
about our religious views throughout his work.6) My second concluding point is
that Stout departs significantly, in ways that adversely affect his views, from the
constructive intellectual stances of the classical pragmatists, among whom I include
primarily William James and John Dewey; Rorty, although many dislike his views
on religion, is a better representative of classical pragmatism than is Stout.

4

Ibid., 72. Nicholas Wolterstorff, “The Role of Religion in Decision and Discussion of Political
Issues,” in Robert Audi and Nicholas Wolterstorff, Religion in the Public Square: The Place of
Religious Convictions in Political Debate (Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1997) 105
[italics in original].
5
For a perspective affirming Rorty’s skepticism regarding the propriety of allowing religion fully
into public life, see Lewis H. Lapham, “The Wrath of the Lamb,” Harper’s Magazine, May 2005,
7–9. See also in the same issue, Jeff Sharlet, “Soldiers of Christ: I. Inside America’s Most Powerful
Megachurch,” 41–54. For an expression of concern that shares my perception of the Christian right
as an emerging political/social juggernaut, see the editorial, “Onward Moderate Christian Soldiers,”
by John C. Danforth, The New York Times (17 June, 2005).
6
See William James’s Gifford Lectures, The Varieties of Religious Experience (New York:
Longmans, Green, 1902; repr., Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1985) esp. lecture
18; see also Lecture 1 of James’s 1910 series of lectures, A Pluralistic Universe (Cambridge,
Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1977). The strategy I here call “genealogy” or “explanation” is
ubiquitous in James’s work.

STUART ROSENBAUM

395

■ Stout’s Optimism; Rorty’s Realism
In 2004, following Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court’s ruling in the Goodridge
case, the issue of gay marriage became a significant public issue.7 Gay marriage
then joined public debates over welfare assistance, abortion, euthanasia, and the
environment as an issue of the sort politicians rush to exploit. Public debate was
then graced by such utterances as “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and
Steve.”8
The question over which Rorty and Stout disagree is whether or not public
discussion of the issue of gay marriage should sequester from public view religious
grounds for opinions on the issue. According to Stout, those whose religious
perspectives ground their opinion on this issue have three alternatives: They may
remain silent; they may offer justifying arguments based strictly on principles that
they share with their policy opponents; or they may “express their actual (religious)
reasons for supporting the policy they favor while also engaging in immanent
criticism of their opponents’ views.”9 Only the third of these possibilities, says Stout,
allows religious people to engage fully and openly in public debate about the issues
that separate them from their opponents. Rorty’s policy, according to Stout, would
itself be a conversation stopper, for it would require those with religious reasons
for their views on controversial issues to remain silent in the public contexts in
which policies are debated and decided.10 But Stout is optimistic:
One can always back up a few paces, and begin again, now with a broader
conversational objective. It is precisely when we find ourselves in an impasse
of this kind that it becomes most advisable for citizens representing various
points of views to express their objectives of understanding one another’s
perspectives, learning from one another through open-minded listening, and
subjecting each other’s premises to fair-minded immanent criticism.11

A problem with Stout’s third alternative is that, as a matter of fact, engaging in
“immanent criticism” of their opponents’ views does not usually occur to those
who appeal to religious ideas to support their public policy positions. Such people
are usually content with recourse to the final authority of such palliatives as “God
created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” Such conversation-stopping recourse
leads Rorty to reject the inclusion of religion in public policy debate. In the face
of such recognizable conversation-stopping strategies, how might one follow
7
See, for example, Robert M. Baird and Stuart Rosenbaum, Gay Marriage (Buffalo: Prometheus,
2004).
8
This quote is from an unidentified minister of the Christian gospel in Washington, D.C. For
similar sentiment without the compelling rhyme of this quote, see “Adam and Eve, not Adam and
Henry,” in Baird and Rosenbaum, 115–16.
9
Stout, Democracy and Tradition, 88. For Stout’s account of the idea of immanent criticism,
as well as his understanding of its importance, see ibid., 73.
10
Ibid., 90.
11
Ibid.

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Stout’s recommendation that one “back up a few paces, and begin again, now
with a broader conversational objective?” Might one suggest that perhaps Adam
and Eve were not literally human individuals, but only characters in one of many
diverse creation stories? Might one suggest that conditions in twenty-first century
America are very different from the conditions that prevailed when that creation
story was written? Might one suggest that there are genetic causes for sexual
preferences that were unknown before late in the twentieth century? From the
opposite perspective, might one suggest that the disease of democratic liberalism
has eroded the traditional ideals of Christian morality? Or perhaps that liberal
individualism has undermined natural community-based constraints on unnatural
behavior? How might one “back up a few paces” and begin another conversation
with broader, yet still relevant, objectives?12
The problem these questions uncover is that of justification by recourse to
authority, a strategy typical of debates that take place when religion comes into the
public marketplace of ideas. For those with specific religious convictions regarding
issues of public consequence, such as the issue of gay marriage, justification by
recourse to religious authorities—privileged texts or persons—is the norm. For
those with more “liberal” perspectives on issues of public consequence, justification
by recourse to the cultural authority of science is a frequent norm. Questions such
as suggested in the previous paragraph are designed to break down a particular
recourse to authority. Any effort to undermine religious individuals’ recourse to
authority, an effort to “back up a few paces, and begin again, now with a broader
conversational objective,” is an effort to question the legitimacy of such recourse.
Likewise, any effort to undermine more liberal individuals’ recourse to the authority
of science is an effort to break the hold of such recourse.
Rorty is concerned that religion is a conversation stopper because he is skeptical
about the prospects for success of any strategy designed to undermine typical
recourses to religious authority; he thinks that pursuing broader conversational
objectives is unlikely to yield anything like progress in the face of such appeals.
One can beat surrounding intellectual bushes only so much, and no matter how
much one beats about one remains unlikely even to distract one’s conversational
partner, especially concerning issues of social import such as gay marriage (or
abortion, welfare assistance, intelligent design in biology classes, and so on).
Rorty’s realistic assessment of the likely outcome of seeking broader conversational
objectives produces his characterization of religion as a conversation stopper.13
12
In fairness to Stout, one should acknowledge that he takes up many of these issues at various
points within the chapters of his book and frequently expresses strong preferences or presents
extensive arguments addressing them.
13
In his more recent essay, “Religion in the Public Square: A Reconsideration,” Journal of
Religious Ethics 31 (2003) 141–49, Rorty moderates his view that religion is a conversation stopper
only modestly. Rorty allows in this more recent essay that Wolterstorff has persuaded him that it is
no more illegitimate for Wolterstorff to cite Biblical passages in favor of his social views than it is
for Rorty to cite John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty. Rorty still believes that religion is a conversation

STUART ROSENBAUM

397

The response to Stout suggested by these remarks in defense of Rorty is that Stout
may be naïve in the face of what American religious culture has become in the
early years of the twenty-first century. Stout may, in the tradition of twentiethcentury pragmatists such as James and Dewey, be hopeful and optimistic, but the
dispassionate pessimism with which Rorty views American religious culture at the
outset of the third millennium is more realistic.

■ My Religion: Justification
Rorty’s realism regarding this issue is supported by recent developments not only
in the social and political arena,14 but also in epistemology, specifically as it applies
to religious belief.
These social and political developments include, among many others, the
reelection by a small but significant margin of George W. Bush to the Presidency
in 2004, aided by the general campaign strategy of solidifying his political
support among religiously conservative voters.15 Bush’s appeal to this religiously
conservative base of political support was, many commentators agree, primarily
responsible for his margin of victory in the campaign. His appeal included such
strategies as his proposal to amend the U.S. Constitution to prevent same sex
marriages; President Bush also characterized Massachusetts’s Goodridge decision
allowing same sex marriage as the work of liberal activist judges in need of restraint
by such an amendment. The heightened sense on the part of many morally and
socially conservative voters that American culture has become too permissively
liberal on social issues has led to an intentional consolidation of Republican Party
politics around conservative religious agendas. A significant part of this new
conservative religious politics is a refusal to appear timorous or apologetic in any
way about one’s religious views or their social consequences.16 The reasons for this
renaissance of religious assertiveness in American politics are many. However one
might explain it, the “wall of separation” recognized by Thomas Jefferson17 appears
endangered in more definitive a way than at any previous time in American history.
What explains this new assertiveness among religiously conservative people? Why
stopper in so far as it involves an appeal to authority in justification of any particular view on any
social issue. Rorty avers that he would not regard his appeal to Mill as authoritative and definitive
in support of any particular position he might hold, and he would urge a similar modesty on those,
including Wolterstorff, who might be tempted to appeal to the definitive authority of some biblical
passage or religious personage.
14
See n. 4 above.
15
Notice that the failure of political strategies designed to appease the religious right during the
congressional elections of 2006 does not diminish the temptation among Republican politicans to
curry favor among religiously conservative voters.
16
For some rumination on this phenomenon, see for example Stanley Fish, “One University
Under God?” The Chronicle of Higher Education, 7 January, 2005.
17
See Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptist Association, printed in The Writings of Thomas
Jefferson (ed. Andrew Lipscomb and Albert Bergh; Washington, D.C., 1903–1904) 16: 281–82.

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now this danger to the wall of separation? Why now this insistence on a vigorous
reinsertion of individual religious convictions into the public policy deliberations
of our distinctively pluralistic American democracy?
Answers to these questions are various and come from many different
disciplinary perspectives. Historians, sociologists, and political scientists have
their own responses. What might philosophers say to it? What might we think of as
the “philosophical underpinnings” not only of these conservative religious views,
but also of the greater willingness to become publicly more aggressive in defending
conservative religious convictions on issues such as same-sex marriage, abortion,
and the teaching of evolution in public schools? What philosophical developments
enable and support this new assertiveness among religious conservatives?18 A more
modest way of posing this question is to ask what philosophical developments
are congruent with this new assertiveness; one need not think of “philosophical
underpinnings” as the actual causes of social events. But surely one may see
significant congruence among developments in our intellectual worlds and
developments in our social worlds—congruence that provides support for cultural
movement in a religiously conservative direction. Thinking in the pragmatist spirit
of the conviction that ideas have consequences, and in a relaxed but sensitive way
about the philosophical background of this increasing religious assertiveness in
the American social context, what developments might our philosophical world
offer as candidates for such a background?
One answer to this question begins with the formation of the Society of
Christian Philosophers in the mid-1980s and its founding and sponsorship of the
journal Faith and Philosophy. The resultant growth of intellectual activity around
projects of Christian philosophy has been notable, and frequently this activity
has centered on historically conservative Christian social and moral perspectives.
But of greatest significance for this movement in defense of Christian philosophy
has been the remarkably successful work of some key figures who have spoken
unapologetically about their Christian commitments. These figures include, among
others, Robert Adams, William Alston, Alvin Plantinga, and Nicholas Wolterstorff.
Each writes for general philosophical audiences on standard philosophical issues
in ways that support their Christian commitments. One key to their success has
been their unwillingness to temper or moderate their own Christian convictions for
general philosophical audiences. Many philosophers, Christian and non-Christian,
acknowledge a need to consider the views of these Christian philosophers because
of their productive ways of addressing traditional philosophical issues.
18
Gilbert Meilaender raises a similar question in connection with Stout’s perspective on democracy
and religion, and finds that Stout has recourse ultimately to the philosophical tradition of American
pragmatism. See Meilaender’s review, “Talking Democracy,” in First Things 142 (2004) 25–31.
Meilaender finds Stout’s recourse to pragmatism finally disabling because he sees it as inevitably
committed to contextualism, relativism, and a refusal to engage questions of ultimate authority. This
refusal to engage questions of ultimate authority or to submit to it (“to bend the knee”) and to bring
the results into the public arena Meilaender finds inimical to his Christian commitments.

STUART ROSENBAUM

399

One of these philosophers whose writing is instructive in the current context is
Alvin Plantinga. Plantinga’s work in epistemology is comprehensive and distinctly
Christian, and its distinctive feature for present purposes is its insistence that
belief in God is “properly basic,” that it is unproblematic from the standpoint
of justification or warrant. This conclusion Plantinga supports through a trilogy
of generally accessible works about epistemology concluding with his largest
volume, Warranted Christian Belief.19 The point of Plantinga’s work is to exonerate
Christians epistemically, to remove from them the burden of justifying their religious
views apart from their individual responses to the internal instigations of the Holy
Spirit.20 He writes:
On the [Aquinas/Calvin] model, then, theistic belief as produced by the sensus
divinitatis is basic. It is also properly basic, and that in at least two senses. On
the one hand, a belief can be properly basic for a person in the sense that it
is indeed basic for him (he doesn’t accept it on the evidential basis of other
propositions) and, furthermore, he is justified in holding it in the basic way:
he is within his epistemic rights, is not irresponsible, is violating no epistemic
or other duties in holding that belief in that way. . . . There is another sense
in which a belief can be properly or improperly basic: p is properly basic for
S in this sense if and only if S accepts p in the basic way, and furthermore p
has warrant for S, accepted in that way. . . .
According to the [Aquinas/Calvin] model I am presenting here, theistic belief
produced by the sensus divinitatis can also be properly basic with respect to
warrant. . . . It isn’t just that the believer in God is within her epistemic rights
in accepting theistic belief in the basic way. That is indeed so; more than that,
however, this belief can have warrant for the person in question, warrant that
is often sufficient for knowledge. The sensus divinitatis is a belief-producing
faculty (or power or mechanism) that under the right conditions produces
belief that isn’t evidentially based on other beliefs. On this model, our cognitive faculties have been designed and created by God; . . . The purpose of
the sensus divinitatis is to enable us to have true beliefs about God; when it
functions properly, it ordinarily does produce true beliefs about God. These
beliefs therefore meet the conditions for warrant; if the beliefs produced are
strong enough, then they constitute knowledge.21

In Plantinga’s way of thinking about Christian religious beliefs, now a significant
focus for Christian epistemologists, conservative Christians need assume no burden
of proof for their religious views since those views are epistemically innocent
and may be held with impunity in the face of skeptics.22 Because of the sensus
19

Alvin Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000).
Plantinga’s acronym for these internal instigations of the Holy Spirit is “IIHS.”
21
Ibid., 177–79.
22
In fairness to Plantinga, one should notice that this characterization of believers’ epistemic
situation requires, in his view, the assumption that God exists and that there is indeed a Holy Spirit
who provides the occasion for these believers’ views. Humans’ epistemic situation depends, for
externalists generally, on their ontological situation.
20

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divinitatis, Christians have warrant for their theistic belief that is “often sufficient
for knowledge.”23
In fairness to Plantinga, I note that he makes some effort to restrict his claim
of epistemic warrant to central Christian tenets, to what he (along with Jonathan
Edwards) calls “the great things of the gospel.”24 The great things of the gospel are,
according to Plantinga, the central teachings of the gospel, those contained in the
intersection of the great Christian creeds. In his footnotes, Plantinga makes clear
that he does not intend his claim of warrant for the great things of the gospel to
include everything a typical Christian believes. Plantinga thus might be cautious
about extending his claim of the warrant supplied by the sensus divinitatis beyond
the great things of the gospel to views on what Christians should believe about
homosexuality, abortion, intelligent design, capital punishment, social security,
church-state relations, or other socially significant issues on which conservative
Christians frequently take distinctive views. Nevertheless, while Plantinga himself
might be cautious about what Christians should believe about these issues and
whether they might be warranted in holding their conservative beliefs, many other
Christians are very aggressive in their positions on such controversial social issues.25
And although Plantinga might be cautious about extending his claim of warrant to
these more controversial Christian perspectives, such caution may not be as dear
to him as these remarks make it appear.
Plantinga does explicitly say in his footnotes that his focus on the “great things
of the gospel” is not intended to restrict the sensus divinitatis, or the internal
instigations of the Holy Spirit, to providing warrant only for propositions that
intersect with the great Christian creeds. He notes:
And hence not everything a typical Christian believes (as a Christian) will be,
strictly speaking, part of faith. For example, she may believe that Jesus Christ
performed miracles, or that God is omniscient, or that the Bible is a specially
inspired word from the Lord, or that faith naturally issues in good works;
none of these is, as such, part of the content of faith. (This is not in any way
to downgrade the importance of these things, and certainly the content of faith
may enter into her reasons for believing them.) And in thus specifying the
23

For a sober, yet Christian, assessment of Plantinga’s views, see Paul K. Moser, “Man to Man
with Warranted Christian Belief and Alvin Plantinga,” Philosophia Christi, Series 2 (2001) 3:369–77.
(Plantinga responds to Moser in adjoining pages of the same issue.)
24
See esp. Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief, 248, and esp. nn. 15 and 16.
25
A noteworthy, but not exceptional, instance of this failure of modesty on the part of a Christian
minister occurred in Waynesville, North Carolina during the month of May, 2005. The Reverend
Chan Chandler allegedly expelled members of his Southern Baptist church for their refusal to
support the Presidential candidacy of George W. Bush. Many lifelong Democrats and members of
Rev. Chandler’s church found themselves excluded from church fellowship on political grounds.
The episode resulted in Rev. Chandler’s eventual resignation and his taking with him many of the
church’s previous members. One who left with him, Misty Turner, was quoted as saying, “I’m not
going to serve where there are so many ungodly people.” For an account of this episode, see The
New York Times, 16 May, 2005, A1.

STUART ROSENBAUM

401

content of faith, I am not, of course, trying to specify those beliefs which are
such that accepting them is necessary for being a real Christian.26

The text of this note and of the footnote succeeding it indicates that Plantinga is
not interested, at least in this book, in adjudicating what is essential to being a
Christian, but it also intimates that he is open to expanding warranted Christian
belief beyond the great things of the gospel. The Heidelberg Catechism, he notes,
includes a “conviction that everything God reveals in his word is true.” Plantinga
further asserts, “God presumably reveals more, in his word, than the great truths of
the gospel.”27 These passages are strong hints that Plantinga is open to conservative
Christian views on issues of public significance such as gay marriage, abortion,
intelligent design, church-state relations, and others. Such views may have warrant,
may be justified, and may constitute knowledge, although Plantinga does not pursue
these issues in this book.
Plantinga’s epistemological views, views he holds by design to exonerate
Christian beliefs from epistemic suspicion, serve as a natural background for
increasing aggressiveness among Christians in asserting their conservative views on
moral and social issues. Plantinga’s intellectual aggressiveness on behalf of creedal
Christianity gives momentum to the political agenda of conservative Christians.
And Plantinga’s own openness to the “conviction that everything God reveals
in his word is true,” along with his explicit defense of the content of Christian
creeds, signals to conservative Christians and politicians that they might well have
his philosophical support for their agendas. Epistemology, in Plantinga’s work,
becomes the cultural handmaiden of Christian creedalism and conservative politics.
Whatever might be his own views on abortion or gay marriage or intelligent design
or church-state relations, Plantinga’s philosophical views implicitly strengthen
conservative agendas regarding these issues.
Regarding the dispute between Rorty and Stout, Stout believes that Rorty’s
opinion—that one’s religious views should be kept private—is itself a conversation
stopper. In contrast Stout maintains that those who deeply disagree over social and
moral issues should “back up a few paces, and begin again, now with a broader
conversational objective.” Rorty’s response to Stout might make use of the above
discussion of Plantinga’s epistemological views. In Plantinga’s epistemology, the
authority of the sensus divinitatis, of the internal instigation of the Holy Spirit, is
warrant, justification, and knowledge providing. How might one follow Stout’s
advice to back up a few paces and begin anew with broader conversational
objectives? How might one try to broaden conversation about these foundational,
warrant-providing authorities?
The sensus divinitatis is as authoritative, in Plantinga’s epistemology, as are
perception and memory; as the latter reliably produce true beliefs so does the
sensus divinitatis. Possibilities for further relevant conversation about abortion,
26
27

Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief, 248 n. 15.
See Ibid., 248 n. 16.

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gay marriage, and other controversial issues, on the assumption that the sensus
divinitatis speaks to them, become quite limited against the background of
Plantinga’s epistemology; for that background, the authority of conservative views
for those who hold them becomes assured by the authority of the reliable medium,
the sensus divinitatis, that warrants holding them. Again, independently of whether
or not Plantinga might himself agree with the claims of groups that embrace
conservative agendas on controversial issues, his reformed epistemology supplies
a comforting background context for those conservative agendas. Conservative
Christian groups may appropriate his understandings of warrant, justification, and
knowledge to fortify their agendas, and they may do so even if they are, unlike
Plantinga, philosophically naïve. The impetus for their conservative convictions
takes further momentum from Plantinga’s reformed epistemology. The question
arises again: What possibilities for backing up and beginning anew with broader
conversational objectives might suggest themselves? The authority of Christian
texts, traditions, and designated persons becomes in Plantinga’s thought foundational
and unyielding; in consequence Stout’s hopeful suggestion that one try to pursue
broader conversational objectives becomes hollow.28
The point of Plantinga’s work is to address issues of justification; he intends to
show that the central content of Christian faith is properly basic, warranted, and
justified, and constitutes knowledge. The conviction of the National Association
of Evangelicals is that their call to civic responsibility is likewise normative for
believers because it is based on reliable, knowledge-producing mechanisms—the
Bible and/or Christian historical traditions, or in Plantinga’s language the internal
instigation of the Holy Spirit. The focus of these thinkers and indeed of most
thinkers concerned with such questions is the issue of justification. Their focus on
justification, along with their recourse to foundational authority, is the Achilles’
heel of Stout’s effort to see them as amenable to pursuing broader conversational
objectives. Rorty sees the matter more clearly: religion is a conversation stopper.29

28
In further support of this claim, I would note Lewis Lapham’s citation of a quote from the
National Association of Evangelicals’s booklet entitled “An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility.”
The quote reads as follows: “We engage in public life because God created our first parents in his
image and gave them dominion over the earth (Gen 1:27–28). . . . We also engage in public life
because Jesus is Lord over every area of life . . . to restrict our stewardship to the private sphere
would be to deny an important part of his dominion and to functionally abandon it to the Evil One.
To restrict our political concerns to matters that touch only on the private and the domestic spheres
is to deny the all-encompassing Lordship of Jesus (Rev 19:16). “Notebook: The wrath of the Lamb,”
Harper’s Magazine, May 2005, 7.
29
See again Rorty’s 2003 “reconsideration” of his view, cited in n. 13 above. Insofar as the idea
of justification by authority is concerned, note that Rorty does not back down; he would be fully
sympathetic to the critique of Plantinga offered here.

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■ After Justification
The point of the above discussion, one that should have been evident from the
philosophical effort expended on issues of epistemology during the seventeenth
and eighteenth centuries, is that efforts to justify in a non-contextual way particular
beliefs or creeds, is a fruitless enterprise. Pursuit of that effort still yields the same
alternatives of skepticism or knowledge rooted in basic beliefs endowed with
their own unique mode of justification. Descartes gives us innate ideas; Roderick
Chisholm gives us synthetic a priori principles of evidence; and Plantinga gives
us the fruit of the internal instigations of the Holy Spirit.30 And philosophical
disputes about the justification of particular beliefs about values or religion continue
unabated.
An alternative to these continuing disputes is to think of religious beliefs not as
justified or unjustified in the epistemological sense that seeks contact with reality
itself, but rather as natural ways of expressing human needs in an encompassing
natural world. Human life is, as John Dewey occasionally puts it, “aleatory,” subject
to vicissitudes of fortune and misfortune. In this traditionally pragmatist way of
thinking about religion, religions and their practices are a natural response to the
larger natural contexts of human life.31
Thinking of religions in this alternative way emphasizes their naturalness as
a normal response to the ecological contexts of the human world. In all of the
diverse niches in which humanity has managed to survive there have been myriad
threats, the most daunting of which have been beyond human control. But even the
most daunting of these natural threats have alternated with conditions beneficial to
human flourishing. Hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods punctuate seasonal periods
of growth and harvest; bitter winters give way to romantic springs and summers;
times of sickness and death yield to times of health and vigor. In such natural
contexts, religions bring a perspective to the vicissitudes of human lives, families,
and communities that supports the larger human hopes that keep humanity oriented
toward a better future.
To see religious beliefs, practices, and communities in this way is to see them
as natural and almost surely common to all human communities. Viewing religions
as expressions of ubiquitous human needs opens them to questions about their
particular origins, their adequacy to meet the needs and interests that give rise to
them, and the prospect of altering them so that they more adequately serve those
needs and interests. This way of thinking about religious beliefs, practices, and
30
There are differences among these three, as well as among other figures that might also
be added to this list. Descartes and Chisholm are, in a proper Enlightenment spirit, thoroughly
egalitarian in their epistemological thought; they think of all persons, qua persons, as having the
same innate ideas or synthetic a priori principles of evidence. Plantinga, in an opposed but proper
Calvinistic spirit, allows for the possibility that the internal instigations of the Holy Spirit may fall
only on a select subset of persons.
31
See, for example, 1929: The Quest for Certainty (ed. Jo Ann Boydston; vol. 4 of The Later Works
of John Dewey, 1925–1953; Carbondale, Ill.: Southern Illinois University Press, 2008) esp. ch. 1.

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communities opens them to strategies of explanation, genealogy, comparison, and
contrast.
William James points significantly toward this ecological way of thinking about
religions in his discussions of philosophy of religion. James prefers to approach
religion through what he calls “science of religion” rather than by philosophy.32
One reason for James’s preference is that through this approach religions become
open to the explanatory techniques of science, and they leave behind the issues of
justification that are the focus of traditional philosophy of religion. John Dewey
joins William James in this preference for leaving aside the issues of epistemology
that dominate traditional philosophy of religion.33
Thinking about human religious perspectives in broadly genealogical ways
that render justification always contextual, rather than in the foundational ways
characteristic of religious epistemology and exemplified in Plantinga’s work, enables
the broader conversational context to which Stout aspires. When religious people
are able to clarify the religious grounds for their views on significant social and
political issues, and when they are able to accept the historical, ecological context
that underlies those religious grounds, then stepping back from a foundational appeal
to the absolute authority of persons, texts, or traditions becomes possible. To step
back from such appeals to authority is to step away from seeing one’s own religious
views and their social/political implications as uniquely warranted, authorized, or
justified in a way that other religious (or nonreligious) views are not.
To broaden conversational contexts when individuals bring their own particular
religious perspectives on controversial issues into the public arena requires a
genealogical, explanatory way of addressing those perspectives. A genealogical
way of addressing religious perspectives sees them in the full concreteness of the
historical contexts and traditions that give rise to them, sustain them, and project
them into their futures. To insist on seeing religious perspectives, along with
their social and political consequences, in the context of justification—to make
justification of those perspectives and their consequences primary in addressing
them intellectually—is to exclude the possibility of continuing conversations with
interlocutors with whom one disagrees. (Plantinga’s strategies of justification in
Warranted Christian Belief exemplify this removal of possibility, as do those of
the National Association of Evangelicals.)
Rorty is right that religion is a conversation stopper if issues of justification are at
the forefront of thought about religions and their social and political consequences.
Rorty is wrong if genealogy can become primary in thought about religions and
their social and political commitments. Similarly, Stout is wrong to assert that one
might always continue the conversation by beginning again with broader objectives
if he is thinking of religious perspectives as in some sense ultimately justified. And
32

See “Philosophy,” in James’s The Varieties of Religious Experience, ch. 18.
This preference is ubiquitous in Dewey’s work, but his Terry Lectures, A Common Faith (New
Haven: Yale University Press, 1934) express it with specific attention to issues of religion.
33

STUART ROSENBAUM

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Stout is similarly right in criticizing Rorty for his pessimism about this issue if he
is thinking about achieving broader conversational objectives by casting the issues
into a broadly genealogical context.34
Focusing on issues of epistemological justification where religious beliefs, or
their social and political consequences, are concerned inevitably ends (historically
speaking) in innate ideas, synthetic a priori truths, or the sensus divinitatis.
Alternatively, it may end in skepticism. Any of these loci is a dead end for the hope of
continuing conversations about contested social and political issues. Understanding
religions in a healthy, pragmatist way contextualizes issues of justification so that
citizens may indeed back up a few steps and begin with broader conversational
objectives; the American pragmatist tradition enables and encourages the continuing
conversation Stout recommends.35
Two questions remain for this discussion of the controversy between Rorty
and Stout. The first question is which of these two ways of addressing issues of
religion— justification or genealogy—ought to have intellectual primacy. The
second question is how Stout himself sees these issues: Does he see epistemological
justification as the primary, “bottom-line” issue where religions are concerned?
Or does he, along with William James,36 see genealogical approaches as primary,
“bottom-line” dimensions in our understanding of religions?

■ Justification or Genealogy?
The first question—which mode of intellectual address of matters religious should
be primary—is itself a question of justification and thus begs the question about
which mode of intellectual address is primary. Asking such normative questions
usually assumes that such questions are primary. The dominant perspective of the
pragmatist tradition, however, is that normative questions about justification are
not primary or ultimate in human intellectual life. Primary instead are the human
contexts within which such questions about justification arise; for the dominant
34
This way of thinking about this issue would be congenial to Dewey’s larger views about belief,
knowledge, and religion. See for example 1925: Experience and Nature (ed. Boydston; vol. 1 of
The Later Works of John Dewey, 1988) 303: “Were not objects of belief immediate goods, false
beliefs would not be the dangerous things which they are. For it is because these objects are good to
believe, to admit and assert, that they are cherished so intolerantly and unremittingly. Beliefs about
God, Nature, society and man are precisely the things that men most cling to and most ardently
fight for. It is easier to wean a miser from his hoard, than a man from his deeper opinions. And the
tragedy is that in so many cases the causes which lead to the thing in question being a value are
not reasons for its being a good, while the fact that it is an immediate good tends to preclude that
search for causes, that dispassionate judgment, which is prerequisite to the conversion of goods de
facto into goods de jure.” Note Dewey’s emphasis on causes and understanding them.
35
The pragmatist tradition can neither enable nor encourage such constructive conversation
so long as any of the conversational partners insists on recourse to strategies of justification by
authority, and this is Rorty’s point in his “reconsideration” of his earlier, more strident rejection of
religion in public discourse; see n. 13.
36
See n. 6 above.

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strands of pragmatism, genealogy and explanation are primary in human intellectual
life, and questions of justification are secondary and contextual.37 Questions
of justification are questions that arise within particular contexts, contexts that
themselves determine what answers are appropriate and justified. Justification is
secondary to and a function of the larger contexts of human life. Scientific questions
offer perhaps the clearest way of seeing how this contextual understanding of
justification works. Consider for example the following questions and how scientists
have answered or might answer them: Are there Quarks? Does a genetic analysis of
horses and dogs yield the same biological classifications of those species as does
a phenotype analysis of them? How many persons with narcissistic personality
disorder also have borderline personality disorder? Does playing computer games
make children smarter? Are Christians more forgiving than Muslims?
For pragmatists, issues pertaining to the justification of belief are uniformly
contextual, and any particular instance of belief held to be justified is open to
strategies of genealogy that exhibit the context-dependence of the belief and its
mode of justification. Are pragmatists able to justify this commitment to context
dependence and genealogical accountability for any belief and its justification?
No. For pragmatists, and especially for the classical pragmatists William James
and John Dewey, the context dependence of justification is a natural outcome of
the continuity of humanity and its institutions with the natural world. Given this
commitment to human continuity with nature, every human phenomenon, including
strategies of justification and argument, is a response to natural and social contexts
and is hence dependent on those contexts. For those who, like Plantinga, do not
accept the idea of human continuity with nature, the idea of justification, along
with its usual epistemological apparatus of an a priori/a posteriori distinction or
a necessity/contingency distinction, along with other such distinctions, provides
an ongoing medium that enables resisting the idea of such continuity. One must
begin somewhere, either with one or another apparatus of justification or with the
idea of human continuity with nature, which renders contextual all the apparatus
associated with philosophical projects of justification. And one cannot begin without
begging questions that motivate either the projects of justification or the idea of
human continuity with nature.38
Along with this philosophical demotion of the idea of justification of belief,
pragmatism also offers alternative understandings of every idea central to the
Western traditions of philosophy, understandings that give these ideas more power
37
I have already mentioned William James’s view in Varieties. John Dewey’s commitment to this
way of understanding human intellectual life is evident throughout his writings, but see in particular
1934: Art as Experience (ed. Boydston; vol. 10 of The Later Works of John Dewey, 1989) for an
elaborate account of how all human practices and institutions have roots in human history and human
ecological contexts. (I should mention also that this pragmatist view cannot be defended without
begging the question any more than can the view that justification is the primary issue.)
38
This fact may explain why “real epistemologists” do not take the classical pragmatists seriously;
the pragmatists’ “justification” is, by their intellectual lights, not justification at all.

STUART ROSENBAUM

407

in addressing problems facing human communities. Not only justification, but also
knowledge, doubt, belief, and truth become ideas that live and grow within the
human contexts of their use; such ideas do not, as most philosophers suppose, have
fixed content that may be elicited solely by analytical techniques. But this essay
is not the proper venue for an expansive account of the benefits of the pragmatist
intellectual tradition for human lives and communities.
Consider now the second remaining question mentioned above: Does Stout
himself acknowledge that the contexts of genealogy and explanation must be
primary in human thought about religion in order to raise religion above its
conversation-stopper status? Such a primacy is required by the classical pragmatists’
commitment to human continuity with nature.

■ Stout and Classical Pragmatism
The answer to this second question about Stout, in my view, must be negative,
but the negative answer cannot be unequivocal. Stout appreciates fully the role of
genealogy in understanding individuals, families, and communities. We are one
and all the individuals, families, and communities we are as a consequence of the
traditions and practices that have set us in our particularity upon the contemporary
stage. We are embedded in communities of practice that yield our identities, and
in consequence we hold the beliefs and values that accompany these identities.
Nevertheless, we are individuals, and to be individuals means that we are capable of
interacting creatively, even oppositionally, with the very communities that in some
vague way yield our identities.39 In appreciating the significance of our traditions
and our individuality Stout embraces the genealogical thinking that is inseparable
from classical pragmatism.
In some crucial ways, however, Stout turns away from pragmatism’s full embrace
of the human situation, and he does so in a way that undermines his commitment
to the pragmatist tradition he much admires. A symptom of Stout’s doubtful vigor
in this respect is his commitment to discursive argumentation as central to each
individual’s democratic identity. As he puts it in his concluding chapter:
The social practices that matter most directly to democracy . . . are the discursive practices of ethical deliberation and political debate. The discursive
exchange essential to democracy is likely to thrive only where individuals
identify to some significant extent with a community of reason-givers.40

This emphasis on discursive practices, deliberation, and debate is symptomatic
of a commitment to dialectical argument, to exhibiting one’s commitments as
conclusions of arguments that might be challenged, debated, rejected, or affirmed.
Such strategies are recognizably dialectical and designed for rational justification.

39
40

See Stout, Democracy and Tradition, 74.
Ibid., 293.

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Stout further remarks as follows at an earlier juncture in the development of his
reasoning:
The inferential activity of reason-giving is hardly the whole of ethics as a
social practice, but it is central to it. Indeed, it is because the claims in which
we express our commitments can play the role of premises or conclusions in
inferences that they have conceptual content. . . . If we did not have inferential
commitments, if we were not committed to treating one claim as a reason for
another, the claims themselves would lack significance. To mean something
in particular, they need to be taken to imply something and not to imply
something else. Their inferential relations confer significance—conceptual
content—upon them.41

Again, Stout appears solidly committed to the activity of reason-giving as central
to a commitment to democracy, and the reason-giving he intends is designed to
justify one’s position or perspective on the issue in question.
Stout’s commitment to the activity of justifying one’s position appears to
make issues about justification foundational to ethical deliberation in democratic
communities. Justifying one’s view on a particular issue appears in his discussions
to be an activity in principle independent of the communities and traditions that
enable those views as well as the strategies of justification that dialectically support
them. But a thoroughgoing pragmatism accepts the genealogical dependency of
one’s views, as well as one’s strategies of justification for those views, on one’s
communities and traditions. My reading of Stout is that he is at least ambivalent
about pragmatism, and a further symptom of his ambivalence is the fact that he
does unquestionably assert his independence of Dewey.42 Stout’s ambivalence is
evident in his overly vigorous embrace of strategies of dialectical argumentation
as central to democratic life and traditions.
A further symptom of Stout’s overly vigorous, and less than pragmatist, embrace
of dialectical justification is his discussion of the ideas of truth and proposition.
Stout feels no reluctance to admit that truth is a property, although he is reluctant
to consent to any current characterization of that property; he accepts what he calls
41

Ibid., 283.
Stout repeatedly distances himself from what he thinks of as Dewey’s commitment to the
idea that truth is warranted assertability. See, for example, 240 and 248. My own view is that this
way of thinking about Dewey’s understanding of truth, one not unique to Stout, is inaccurate and
overly simplified; see, for example, Dewey’s discussion of truth in Logic: the Theory of Inquiry
(ed. Boydston; vol. 12 of The Later Works of John Dewey, 2008) 178–79. Also, compare Stout’s
discussion of truth with that of Duane Cady in Moral Vision: How Everyday Life Shapes Ethical
Thinking (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005) esp. 55–56. Cady’s discussion, while brief,
is explicitly genealogical. Speaking of the classical pragmatists, one must not overlook William
James; James’s struggles to express his understanding of truth were frequent and unsuccessful. See
Hilary Putnam’s discussion of James’s understanding of truth in “James’s theory of truth,” in The
Cambridge Companion to William James (ed. Ruth Anna Putnam; Cambridge University Press, 1997)
166–85; see also in that same volume the essay by Bruce Wilshire, “The Breathtaking Intimacy of
the Material World: William James’s Last Thoughts,” 103–24, esp. 115–16.
42

STUART ROSENBAUM

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“modest pragmatism,” a form of pragmatism that rejects any proposal to reduce
truth to some form of coherence, acceptance, or utility.43 Stout also embraces the
idea that truth is a property of propositions, and apparently has no misgivings
about the distinctly non-pragmatist philosophical idea of a proposition.44 These
commitments on Stout’s part evidence a reluctance to embrace fully the pragmatist
tradition in philosophy; they undermine his ability to show how that pragmatist
tradition might robustly sustain American democracy even as that democracy
becomes skeptical about its religious roots as epistemologically justified. Stout
must become more vigorous in his embrace of classical pragmatism if he is to be
successful in turning aside the critiques of his conservative Christian interlocutors
who scorn the idea that American pragmatism might be a constructive contribution
to genuine democracy.45

■ Conclusion
Western philosophers’ pervasive concerns with central normative ideas of human
communities—justification, rightness, goodness, truth, belief, knowledge, etc.—
tend to conceal from them the fact that that norms and values always do their work
contextually and derive their significance from human communities and from
various dimensions of human continuity with our world. Stout appears to have
consented to this concealment in his protest against Rorty’s characterization of
religion as a conversation stopper. In spite of his obvious affection for American
pragmatism, Stout fails to embrace the fullness of pragmatism’s naturalization of
thought about the central ideas of philosophy. Stout’s “half-way covenant” with
American pragmatism leaves him uncomfortably on the fence between Plantinga
and Rorty. Getting off this particular fence requires that Stout embrace more fully
the pragmatists’ idea that explanatory and genealogical contexts take precedence
over the contexts of justification that are so dear to Anglo-European philosophers
such as Plantinga. Rorty’s protest against bringing religion into social and political
discussion is simultaneously a protest against the presumptions of those AngloEuropean philosophers.

43

See Stout 251, and more generally 248–55.
John Dewey gives a pragmatist account of the idea of a proposition as an instrument of human
activity in Logic, The Theory of Inquiry, 162, but this idea is very different from that of propositions
as abstract particulars and bearers of fixed truth-values, and the latter idea is the one Stout evidently
intends to embrace in his own discussion of propositions.
45
Stout’s critique of these conservative Christian perspectives is nonetheless quite helpful in spite
of my general conclusion that Stout himself does not go far enough in his embrace of traditional
pragmatism. See especially part two of Democracy and Tradition “Religious Voices in a Secular
Society,” 64–181.
44

Ezekiel’s Geometric Vision of the
Restored Temple: From the Rod of His
Wrath to the Reed of His Measuring*
Bennett Simon
Harvard Medical School

“I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of His wrath.” (Lam 3:1)
“Now there was a wall all around the outside of the temple area. The length of
the measuring reed in the man’s hand was six long cubits, each being a cubit
and a handbreadth in length; so he measured the thickness of the wall.” (Ezek
40:5)
In the biblical vision as epitomized in Ezekiel, the temple was destroyed and the
people exiled because of God’s rage at the sins and crimes of the house of Israel.
Biblical writers such as the author of Lamentations bear witness to the rod of God’s
wrath. The angry and violent denunciations that permeate much of Ezekiel’s book
give way to a final vision in a totally different mode, the language of measurement
and geometry.1
In their geometric and numerical emphasis, chapters 40–48 of Ezekiel stand in
striking contrast to the other chapters of the book, which are much more imagistic,
poetic, and extravagant in language. These final chapters outline an ordered,
systematic picture of God’s restoration. The book as a whole—as has been noted
*
An earlier version was presented at the Interdisciplinary Seminar on Ritual, at Boston University,
May, 2004—thanks to Adam Seligman for response to that version. Peter Machinist and Roberta
Apfel read multiple drafts and each was extremely helpful in many ways. Thanks too to John Pairman
Brown and Lewis Feldman for their readings, and to Jacob Milgrom for helpful conversations on
Ezekiel. The anonymous readers for the journal contributed to clarity and conciseness.
1
Translations of biblical passages are from the NRSV in the New Oxford Annotated Bible (ed. Michael
D. Coogan; 3d ed.; New York: Oxford University Press, 2001) unless otherwise indicated.

HTR 102:4 (2009) 411–38

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by ancient, medieval, and modern readers—is extreme in its language, replete with
violent imagery of bloodshed and mutilation, and lurid in its sexual detailing of
Israel as a harlot. It is marked by seeming inconsistencies and puzzling passages
(e.g., 20:25: “Moreover, I [God] gave them [Israel] statutes that were not good
and ordinances by which they could not live”) that have challenged readers and
interpreters beginning with Ezekiel’s contemporaries (e.g., 33:30–33).
My thesis regarding the role of these final chapters is twofold: First, that
geometry bounds and binds both God and humankind, taming the wildness and
extravagance of each.2 The prophet portrays both the extreme perversity of the
people and God’s own struggle between intemperateness and the relenting of his
wrath.
Second, I suggest that the emphasis on geometry and measurement serves as
an attempt to calm the disturbances caused by persistent moral and theological
problems that are recalcitrant to definitive solution. Geometry repairs, as it were,
“cracks in the wall,” the areas of contradiction and tension that strain belief and
faith in the divine order.3
What are the areas of wildness, the realms of things out of control, for which
this kind of measurement and regulation is needed? I will distinguish among five
areas, first discussing the “wildness” in the earlier chapters of the book and then
taking up the taming and transformations in chapters 40–48:
1. Extravagance of visions, language, and of symbolic acts in the book of
Ezekiel
2. Violence and bloodshed perpetrated by the people
3. Sexual betrayal as an image of the people’s betrayal of God: The image of
the female in Ezekiel

2
Recent work on Ezek 40–48 includes Jacqueline Lapsley, “Doors Thrown Open and Waters
Gushing Forth: Mark, Ezekiel, and the Architecture of Hope,” in The Ending of Mark and the Ends
of God: Essays in Memory of Donald Harrisville Juel (ed. Beverly Roberts Gaventa and Patrick D.
Miller; Louisville: John Knox, 2005) 139–54, who deals explicitly with the role of measurement
and architectural precision (see also her references to other authors). Two symposia—The Book of
Ezekiel: Theological and Anthropological Perspectives (ed. Margaret Odell and John T. Strong;
Atlanta: SBL, 2000) and Ezekiel’s Hierarchical World: Wrestling with a Tiered Reality (ed. Stephen
Cook and Corinne Patton; Atlanta: SBL, 2004)—are important, and especially in Cook and Patton
there is a good deal of discussion of the moral and theological implications of chs. 40–48. Older
work includes: Moshe Greenberg, “The Design and Themes of Ezekiel’s Program of Restoration,”
in Interpreting the Prophets (ed. James Luther Mays and Paul J. Achtmeier; Philadelphia: Fortress,
1987) 215–36; Jon D. Levenson, Theology of the Program of Restoration of Ezekiel 40–48 (Harvard
Semitic Monographs 10; Missoula, Mont.: Scholars Press, 1976); idem, Creation and the Persistence
of Evil: The Jewish Drama of Divine Omnipotence (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press,
1988), esp. “Cosmos and Microcosmos,” 78–99; and Susan Niditch, “Ezekiel 40–48 in a Visionary
Context,” CBQ 48 (1986) 208–34.
3
The phrase “cracks in the wall” is used to describe problems in the narratives of creation.
André Lacoque, “Cracks in the Wall,” in idem and Paul Ricœur, Thinking Biblically: Exegetical and
Hermeneutical Studies (trans. David Pellauer; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998) 3–29.

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4. The “Old Self” and the “New Self” of the people: measurement and morality
(43:10–11)
5. The wildness of God; “That you may know I am Yahweh” and “for the sake
of my name”
Background of the Thesis
A convergence of my professional interests as a clinical psychoanalyst and my
activity as a teacher and writer in the borderlands between psychoanalysis and
literature led me, a few years ago, to this reading of Ezekiel.4
In my clinical work, I have encountered people who use measurement, geometry,
and precise structural detail as psychological defenses. Various forms of obsessivecompulsive behaviors—highly ordered, precisely counted, and ritualized––are often
employed in the service of warding off painful affects, forbidden aggressive and
sexual thoughts, and at times painful memories of traumatic events.5
For example, a man struggling to contain his chronic frustration and anger
typically dreams of something wildly expanding or exploding, but there is always
an accompanying precise measurement. He dreams of a plot to assassinate Hitler in
a bunker, with a powerful bomb placed underneath a concrete table almost entirely
filling the room. There are exactly six inches between the edges of the table and
the walls of the bunker.
In my studies of modern drama, especially the so-called Theater of the
Absurd,6 I have noted the juxtaposition of geometric precision and human chaos,
the “dramatic” counterpoint between mathematical, geometric precision, and the
4
This essay is the result of this psychoanalyst reading Ezekiel rather than a psychoanalytic
reading of Ezekiel, let alone “the psychoanalytic reading,” were such a thing possible. There have
been several explicitly psychoanalytic works on Ezekiel in the past few decades, most notably David
Halperin, Seeking Ezekiel: Text and Psychology (Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press,
1993) and essays written at least partly in response to Halperin’s (controversial and controvertible)
book. See Dereck M. Daschke, “Desolate among Them: Loss, Fantasy and Recovery in the Book
of Ezekiel,” American Imago 56 (1999) 105–32; and three essays in From Genesis to Apocalyptic
Vision (ed. J. Harold Ellens and Wayne G. Rollins; vol. 2 of Psychology and the Bible: A New
Way to Read the Scriptures; Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2004); John J. Schmitt, “Psychoanalyzing
Ezekiel,” 185–202; David Jobling, “An Adequate Psychological Approach to the Book of Ezekiel,”
203–14; and David G. Garber Jr., “Traumatizing Ezekiel, the Exilic Prophet,” 215–36. See also
Daniel Merkur, “Prophetic Initiation in Israel and Judah,” The Psychoanalytic Study of Society 12
(1988) 37–67, esp. 50–63. For a brief discussion of the relationship between the psychoanalytic and
philological modes, see, for example, David Halperin on Ezekiel 8–11 in Mortimer Ostow, Ultimate
Intimacy: The Psychodynamics of Jewish Mysticism (Madison, Conn.: International Universities
Press, 1995) 183–89 and the reply by Ostow, 200–205. My own essay on “How can you, or how
can you not, psychoanalyze Ezekiel?” is in preparation.
5
The etiology of the condition known as obsessive-compulsive disorder clearly involves biological
factors and may have a hereditary element. What the person may do with the compulsive symptoms
does, however, entail individual psychodynamic meanings.
6
The term coined by Martin Esslin in The Theatre of the Absurd (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday,
1961).

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chaos and absurdity of the dramatic situations.7 Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi (1896),
considered the first play of this genre, begins with a professor-geometer who has
discovered a method for enabling polyhedrons to reproduce, clearly superior to the
messy interactions needed for human reproduction. The plays of Samuel Beckett,
presenting scenes of death, desolation, despair, and lack of connection, repeatedly
introduce measurement and dimension. Endgame (1955), which portrays a kind of
post-apocalyptic survival scene, opens with one of the protagonists (Clov) going
through the classic arithmetic exercise of doubling the number of grains placed
on each successive square of a chessboard, which is soon followed by a statement
of the precise dimensions of the kitchen, the room adjacent to the room where the
“action” is taking place. Similarly, Beckett’s Imagination Dead Imagine has as its
stage setting two barely alive bodies, each in a semi-circular space, lying at very
precise angles to each other. Measurement and precision in this genre of writing
enhance the dramatic absurdity by deflecting the audience and actor away from the
underlying pain presented in the plays. From a different era, there is the experience
of Albrecht Dürer, who reports his own dream of apocalyptic disaster: A waterfall
is flooding the earth while he, the dream observer, is measuring the angle between
the waterfall and the vertical wall over which it is descending.8
My supposition is that the geometric vision is defensive, adaptive, and, potentially, creative—a way of struggling with problems of evil, contamination, and
imperfection, including imperfection in the relationship between God and human
worshippers. We yearn for some geometric and arithmetic precision because our
desires and passions are terribly imprecise, indeed at times verging on the chaotic
and the unbounded. The beauty and elegance of mathematics inspire awe in us,
contrasting with the persistence of a certain ugliness and lack of grace in our
innermost world, let alone in the external social and political world. Geometry
cleanses, orders, and puts strict, defined boundaries in place. The geometric dream
attempts to resolve intractable human aggression, including the lust for power and
the attendant injustices of that lust. It delimits the chaos of sexuality, replacing the
messiness of family relations, procreation, and gender differences with clean lines
and bodies. Right angle triangles are neater than family triangles. Measurement
defends against pained awareness of the flaws and contradictions in our moral
universe, but of course cannot definitively repair and reconstitute that universe. At
7
Bennett Simon, “The Imaginary Twins: The Case of Beckett and Bion,” International Review
of Psycho-Analysis 15 (1988) 331–52; idem, “The Fragmented Self, the Reproduction of the Self,
and Reproduction in Beckett and in the Theater of the Absurd,” in The World of Samuel Beckett
(ed. Joseph H. Smith; Psychiatry and the Humanities 12; Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University
Press, 1990) 157–80.
8
See Raymond Klibanksy, Erwin Panofsky, and Fritz Saxl, Saturn and Melancholy (New York:
Basic Books, 1964) 363 for Dürer’s engraving, Melancholia II, and 360–65 for Dürer’s struggles
with the limits of mathematics. See Phyllis Greenacre’s speculation on Piet Mondrian’s precise
geometric productions, “The Primal Scene and the Sense of Reality,” Psychoanalytic Quarterly
42 (1973) 10–41.

BENNETT SIMON

415

the same time, there is the possibility that the use of geometry and measurement
have a “progressive” and not only “regressive” potential; some new idea or ideal is
being articulated, and/or a powerful aesthetic is being developed with psychological
and spiritual potential of its own.9

■ Measurement and Excess in the Book of Ezekiel: The Order of
the Temple and the Disorder of the People
In his final vision, Ezekiel is transported back to a high mountain in the land of
Israel where he is shown the structure of the new temple:
In the twenty-fifth year of our exile, at the beginning of the year, on the tenth
day of the month, in the fourteenth year after the city was struck down,10 on
that very day, the hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me there.
He brought me, in visions of God, to the land of Israel, and set me down upon
a very high mountain, on which was a structure like a city to the south. When
he brought me there, a man was there, whose appearance shone like bronze,
with a linen cord and a measuring reed in his hand; and he was standing in
the gateway. The man said to me, “Mortal, look closely and listen attentively,
and set your mind upon all that I shall show you, for you were brought here
in order that I might show it to you; declare all that you see to the house of
Israel.” Now there was a wall all around the outside of the temple area. The
length of the measuring reed in the man’s hand was six long cubits, each being a cubit and a handbreadth in length; so he measured the thickness of the
wall, one reed; and the height, one reed.” (Ezek 40:1–5)

The contrast between “measurement” and “excess” forcefully confronts the reader
in the transition from the two preceding chapters, 38 and 39, to 40–48, the vision
of the restored (and improved!) temple and commonwealth. Chapters 38 and
39 recount the final assault on the people of Israel by Gog of Magog and Gog’s
cataclysmic defeat:
the mountains shall be thrown down, and the cliffs shall fall, and every wall
shall tumble to the ground. . . . With pestilence and bloodshed I will enter into
judgment with him; and I will pour down torrential rains and hailstones, fire
and sulfur, upon him and his troops. (Ezek 38:20–22)

In contrast, 40–48 contain detailed and precise architectural measurements of
space and of land.11 Measurement, boundary, geometrical precision, recurrent right
9
See Paul Ricœur, Freud and Philosophy: An Essay on Interpretation (trans. Dennis Savage;
New Haven: Yale University Press, 1970) esp. 494–98. See also Anthony Thistleton, “Biblical
Studies and Theoretical Hermeneutics,” in The Cambridge Companion to Biblical Interpretation
(ed. John Barton; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998) 95–113.
10
Ezekiel was part of the first wave of exiles to Babylon in 597 B.C.E. The book opens in Babylon
with Ezekiel’s celestial vision in 593; the temple is destroyed in 586. This final vision is April 28,
573. (I follow the dating scheme used in the NRSV in the New Oxford Annotated Bible notes on
Ezekiel. Another scheme of dating would make this date the Day of Atonement in that year.)
11
I count fifty-three instances in chs. 40–48 of the verb or noun of the root HHQ, “to measure,”

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angles, squares, rectangles, cubes (but no circles or triangles)—these constitute the
main substance of Ezekiel’s last prophetic vision. The temple is laid out according
to a plan that essentially uses squares as the modal form for the holiest parts. The
temple enclosure, a square of 500 cubits, is substantially larger than the temple of
Solomon. The entire city of Jerusalem is 4,500 cubits square.
These chapters conclude with new divisions of the land for the priests, the
Levites, and the twelve tribes (ten of which had been taken into Assyrian captivity
over a century before and were never again to be heard from). That plan is also
exceedingly geometric, precise, and symmetric. The allocations for the tribes are
rectangular, stacked one on top of the other, from north to south.12
God may come down and reside in this temple and city, a place that will be
definitively demarcated from the realms of moral and ritual impurity. Rituals are
detailed in these chapters, and they are differentiated according to degree of holiness
just as the sites of their performance are spatially differentiated. The rituals of the
temple are designed to maintain the ongoing process of purging, the purification
of inevitable sin and pollution.
This vision dramatically contrasts with the earlier temple vision in Ezekiel 8. On
September 17, 592 B.C.E., Ezekiel is divinely transported back to Jerusalem to see
the still-standing temple and witness the abominations being perpetrated there by
the house of Israel. God then removes his presence (chapters 10–11) and foretells
the destruction of the temple and the exile of the remaining people to Babylonia.
In the vision of restoration, the divine presence—the H[FO or “glory”—returns to
the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem, with the city renamed “The Lord is There” (Ezek
48:35).

NThe Plan of the Temple13
The basic temple plan consists of a series of squares and rectangles and the solids
composed of these. Following Stevenson’s analysis of 40–48, we can see how
the square (and the cube) is the more holy shape, the shape of the holy of holies,
the altar, the spaces of the inner court, the house, and the Ú]RF (“building”). The
pressing need is to provide spaces and structures for purging the impurities of the
people that led God to drive them into exile. “The relationship between the Holy of
Holies and the Altar is at the heart of the ideology of Ezekiel, and is expressed in
the architectural layout of the House. The Holy of Holies is the symbolic dwelling
place [of God’s “glory”] and the Altar is the place of purgation.”14
an extraordinary density of these words, especially considering their infrequent use in descriptions
of the desert tabernacle or Solomon’s temple. On numbers and measurement in the Hebrew Bible
see Solomon Gandz, Studies in Hebrew Astronomy and Mathematics (New York: Ktav, 1970).
12
E.g., according to the map in Torah, Neveem, K’tooveem (Koren: Jerusalem, 1995) 83 of the
appendix.
13
Kalinda Rose Stevenson, Vision of Transformation: The Territorial Rhetoric of Ezekiel 40–48
(SBL Dissertation Series 154; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1996).
14
Ibid., 41.

BENNETT SIMON

417

The priestly theology to which Ezekiel is heir focuses on the role of the temple
and of temple ritual for dealing with the sins and impurities of the house of Israel.
Greenberg on Ezekiel15 and Milgrom on Leviticus16 have demonstrated that the
temple is a place of purgation, continuous and periodic, of the impurities of the
people. There are impurities of ordinary living (genital discharges, menstruation,
sexual intercourse, certain illnesses, touching impure objects, and corpse contact)
that render a person unable to enter sacred spaces, as well as the impurities of
idolatry and violations of social-justice commandments.17 The land of Israel also
requires periodic purgation, and therefore when the cumulative sins of the house of
Israel exceeded the capacity of the temple to achieve purgation, they were expelled
from their land.
The temple—the place where the redemptive, purifying rituals can take place
and the glory of God can dwell—has gradations of space that range from holy to
profane (or “common” as some translations have it). In the rebuilt and renamed
Jerusalem, there is still a high priest, but there is no longer a king. The previous
royal civil order was contaminating, generating corpse pollution, debauchery, and
idol-worship. Instead, there is to be a new office, the E]GR, “prince,” with delimited
sacrificial duties. The imminent historical context is the community of the exiles,
purified by their experience of sin and redemption, reclaiming residence in the land
that belongs to God but is in fact still inhabited by compatriots who did not go into
exile.18 The political structure is perfectly balanced, symmetrical, and hierarchical,
literally and figuratively. The previous hierarchy of kings, priests, and (false)
prophets has not fulfilled its role-specific obligations, yet hierarchy is needed to
control the disorder and violations denounced throughout the book.19
Cook and Patton elaborate further on the spatial organization of holiness,
including very complex structures regulating entrances and exits.20 They emphasize,
15
Moshe Greenberg, Ezekiel 1–20 (Anchor Bible; Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1983) and
Ezekiel 21–37 (Anchor Bible Series; New York: Doubleday, 1997).
16
Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 1–16: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (Anchor
Bible; Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1991).
17
For corpse pollution see 39:11–16 (Gog), 43:6–9 (kings), and 44:25–27 (priests). On corpse
pollution as the major form of uncleanness in the ancient Mediterranean world and its importance
in maintaining a clear boundary between life and death, see Jonathan Z. Smith, Drudgery Divine:
On the Comparison of Early Christianities and the Religions of Late Antiquity (Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 1990) 124.
18
See Kalinda Rose Stevenson, “The Land is Yours: Ezekiel’s Outrageous Land Claim” (GAIR
Conference Papers, 2001: www.cwru.edu/affil/GAIR/papers/2001papers/stevensonEzk.html), which
elaborates on the rhetorical import of the land claims in the post-exilic period (whether the final
composition of the book was done before or after the return from Babylon in 539 B.C.E.).
19
See Jonathan Z. Smith, To Take Place: Toward Theory in Ritual (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1992) esp. 47–73 and endnotes. Smith, analyzing the role of hierarchy in these
chapters of Ezekiel, argues for several “maps” of the arrangement of purity and of power; these
different “maps” constitute a dialectic with a potential for creative transformation in Judaism after
there was no longer a temple.
20
Cook and Patton, Ezekiel’s Hierarchical World, 13–14.

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as have others,21 the profound differences between Ezekiel’s temple vision and
Solomon’s temple and the desert tabernacle in terms of differentiation, separation,
and segregation:22
Ezekiel’s temple complex contains six or seven core zones of graded holiness, whereas the priestly tabernacle and the temple of Solomon have only
three. . . . The courtyard of Ezekiel’s temple contains multiple new zones with
defined entry restrictions. Its walled inner court and altar area is restricted to
priestly use, barred to Levites and laity alike (Ezek 42:1; 44:19; 46:3). Intermediate zones between the temple’s inner and outer courtyards are constituted
by three gates. (Ezek 40:28–37)
The outer court has its own new, unique zones (Ezek 44:1–3) and a new series
of three gatehouses. . . . Levites and laity have use of the temple’s outer court,
but no one uncircumcised, profane, or foreign has access (Ezek 42:20; 44:9).
The temple’s outer gates lead forth into a newly conceived “holy district” of
land (45:1–8) with two distinct parts. This district surrounds and protects the
temple complex, and its two parts provide dwelling space for the priests, the
Levites, and their families.23

The authors also summarize gradations of height and holiness and the progressively
narrower entrances to the holiest places (e.g., Ezek 40:48; 41:2, 3). They cite
Greenberg on the gatehouses of the complex: “The massive size of the gatehouses
verges on caricature.”24
Thus, the vision of precisely laid-out geometry and architecture involves extreme
restriction, constriction, and control of areas and of openings. The schema is one,
as a number of commentators have proposed, of holiness delimiting itself from
the profane, as encoded in worship, in societal structure, in body, and in psyche.
Ezekiel’s vision forms a kind of map of the territories of the moral cosmos and
entails a re-creation story if not a literal creation story.25
We now turn to the five areas of “wildness” which need to be “tamed” or
transformed in the final temple vision:
Extravagance of Visions, Language, and Symbolic Acts in the Book of Ezekiel
Ezekiel’s visionary experiences and visionary imagination are elaborate by
comparison with earlier prophets as well as with his contemporary Jeremiah,
21

See esp. Greenberg, “Design and Themes of Ezekiel’s Program of Restoration.”
For a summary of the arguments in the Talmud about the problem posed for the rabbis by
the differences between Ezekiel’s vision and the instructions on tabernacle and sacrifice in the
Torah, see David Halperin, The Faces of the Chariot: Early Jewish Responses to Ezekiel’s Vision
(Tübingen: Mohr, 1988) 25–26.
23
Cook and Patton, Ezekiel’s Hierarchical World, 13–14.
24
Greenberg, “Design and Themes of Ezekiel’s Program of Restoration.” As a number of authors
have noted, the “blueprint” is skimpy on heights, and there is no mention of a roof.
25
Suggested by Susan Niditch, “Ezekiel 40–48 in a Visionary Context,” CBQ 48 (1986)
208–34.
22

BENNETT SIMON

419

especially the visions of the deity. The opening vision of God and the angelic
beings in chapters 1 and 3 is far more elaborate than the visions of Isaiah (chapter
6) or Habakkuk (chapter 3). In his other visions throughout the book, Ezekiel recalls
that “the hand of God was upon me” and he is “transported” (e.g., from Babylon
to Jerusalem). He lives in ecstatic or visionary space to a far greater extent than
the other prophets.26
Consider the symbolic acts that Ezekiel is enjoined to perform: “eat this scroll”;
“lie on your left side” (three hundred ninety days) and then “on your right side”
(forty days); eat the food of siege and starvation, baked on human dung (Ezek
2:9–3:3 and 4:1–16). He is to be tied down; he is to remain mute for years. The
efforts of commentators to decipher the significance of these acts and to place
them in the context of other symbolic acts in the Hebrew Bible (especially in the
Prophets) highlight the remarkable concatenation and concentration of these acts
in Ezekiel. Greenberg summarizes:
As his visions outdo those of other prophets in their intricacy, so his symbolic
actions are not to be tailored and trimmed along the simple lines of theirs.
The possibility must be allowed that Ezekiel, the authentic Ezekiel, was
baroque.27

The language and imagery of much of the book are extravagant, mocking, obscene,
and brutal. Ezekiel’s violent imagery includes mutilation, dismemberment, and
rotting bodies. Poetic metaphors and images are intricate and condensed, appealing
to multiple psychic levels and multiple sensory registers of the audiences and
requiring considerable effort on the part of interpreters.
What happens, then, overall, in chapters 40–48? The visionary experience is
composed of Ezekiel’s transport in visions to the land of Israel and a tour of the
to-be-restored and new temple and of the divisions of the land, all marked by details
of dimensions and measurement. There are two visions of God entering the temple,
in 43 and in 44. Both are potentially as rich and awesome as the vision of chapter
1—the vision in 43 is explicitly compared to earlier visions, including the vision
at the canal of Chebar. While awesome sound and light are mentioned, however,
they are not detailed; the glory of God is not accompanied by the cherubim or other
winged creatures. The descriptions are quite brief and quickly circumscribed by
details of measurement (43:11–17), of ritual (43:18–27), and of prescribed rules and
ordinances (44). The winged angels of chapters 1 and 10 are replaced, as it were, by
a repeated ornamental pattern (flat, or bas-relief): a cherub on either side of a palm
tree, each cherub with two faces, one of a human and one of a lion (41:7–20).
26
See Abraham J. Heschel’s discussion of ecstatic prophecy in The Prophets (New York: Harper,
2001) 414–57 and Joseph Blenkinsopp, A History of Prophecy in Israel (Louisville, Ky.: John Knox,
1996). For a detailed discussion of symbolic visions from Amos to Daniel (but not taking up in
detail Ezekiel and Isaiah), see Susan Niditch, The Symbolic Vision in Biblical Tradition (Chico,
Calif.: Scholars Press, 1983).
27
Greenberg, Ezekiel 1–20, 219.

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There are no symbolic acts enjoined upon Ezekiel in these chapters—everything
is quite clear and explicit. Similarly, the language and poetry of these chapters are
much less complex and multi-layered, the images straightforward. There is the one
very detailed image of the fertilizing stream emanating from the temple, but even
that is marked by a progression of precise measurements (47:1–6).28
Two other sets of images of wildness are transformed in the new temple, those
of wild animals and of unpruned plants. Galambush has elaborated on how the
land will be given over to wild animals as punishment for the sins of its inhabitants
(e.g., 14:15); enemies and persecutors may also be depicted as wild animals (e.g.,
34:5, 8); and the corrupt leaders of the people of Israel are likewise described
using animal imagery (22:25; 13:4; 22:27).29 Pervasive too are images of trees or
vines that have grown wild, untended, too big and invasive, and therefore must
be cut down or pruned (e.g., 17; 19:10–14 for Israel; 31 for Assyria and Egypt as
haughty trees).30 In the new temple, both images are tamed by making them twodimensional, incorporated into the repetitive pattern, which includes a palm tree
and a face of a lion on a cherub.
Violence and Bloodshed Perpetrated by the People31
Our focus here is on the bloodshed of murder, and child-sacrifice as murder. Blood
is the stuff of life, and, in much of the Hebrew Bible, it may neither be eaten nor
shed (Gen 9:4–6). Violence (WQN), as in the story of the flood, is rife in the land,
and appears to refer, inter alia, to the shedding of blood.
The attack on Israel as harlot not only overlaps with the imagery of blood and
murder, but also uses idolatry as a linking concept:
You took your sons and your daughters, whom you had borne to me, and
these you sacrificed to them [i.e., idols] to be devoured. As if your whorings
were not enough! You slaughtered my children and delivered them up as an
offering to them. And in all your abominations and your whorings you did
not remember the days of your youth, when you were naked and bare, flailing
about in your blood. (Ezek 16:20–22)

28

See below for discussion of the gender of the river.
Julie Galambush, “God’s Land and Mine: Creation as Property in the Book of Ezekiel,” in
Ezekiel’s Hierarchical World, 91–108, esp. 92–98.
30
For Greek hubris, “overweening pride,” and related verbs as metaphors from the realm of
untamed, unpruned plants, see Ann Michelini, “Hubris and Plants,” Harvard Review of Classical
Philology 82 (1978) 35–44.
31
I draw heavily on John Kutsko, Between Heaven and Earth: Divine Presence and Absence
in the Book of Ezekiel (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2000) 135–39 for a list of passages in
Ezekiel referring to blood and bloodshed (about fifty instances) and the comparison of Ezekiel to
the flood story.
29

BENNETT SIMON

421

The blood of murder and child-sacrifice overlaps with the blood of childbirth,
and in turn with menstrual blood. Menstrual blood is ritually impure, and there is
a strict prohibition on intercourse with the menstruating woman (Lev 18:19)32:
Mortal, when the House of Israel dwelt on their own soil, they defiled it with
their ways and their deeds; their conduct in my sight was like the uncleanness
of a woman in her menstrual period. So I poured out my wrath upon them
for the blood that they had shed upon their land, and for the idols with which
they had defiled it. (Ezek 36:17–18; see also Ezek 22:6–13)

The restored temple is the place where the violence and lawlessness of the rulers
are redressed and reworked with the framework of careful measurement and
just measures. The shedding of blood and associated violence (WQN) is also to be
mitigated and controlled by careful measurement:
Thus says the Lord GOD: Enough, O princes of Israel! Put away violence
(WQN) and oppression, and do what is just and right. Cease your evictions of
my people, says the Lord GOD. You shall have honest balances, an honest
ephah, and an honest bath. The ephah and the bath shall be of the same measure, the bath containing one-tenth of a homer, and the ephah one-tenth of a
homer; the homer shall be the standard measure. The shekel shall be twenty
gerahs. Twenty shekels, twenty-five shekels, and fifteen shekels shall make a
mina for you. (Ezek 45:9–12)33

Honest measurement is an important element in achieving this containment. The
next verses go on to detail the exact measurements of the grain, barley, and oil
that shall be part of the offerings. The temple in this new commonwealth, with its
measured political order, is to be a place of controlling bloodshed.
Blood is ritually sprinkled as part of a sacrifice (e.g., in dedicating the altar,
Ezek 43:18–20). Further, on the “Passover” of the restoration—the first day of the
first month—the blood of the XEJN or “sin-offering” is to be sprinkled on various
doorposts of the temple and on the ledges of the altar.34 Blood (and fat, by inference),
32
Greenberg emphasizes the revulsion associated here with menstrual impurity, citing Ezek 7:19
and 2 Chr 29:5. See his Ezekiel 21–37, 727–29: “The ndh-state of a given population (incurred by
evildoing) is communicated to their land; e.g., Canaan prior to its takeover by Israel was ‘a ndh-land
because of the ndh of the peoples of the land’ (Ez 9:11)” (728). Traditional Jewish interpretations
differ on the implications of this image: Yechiel Tzvi Moskovitz, Sefer Yechezkayl (Jerusalem: Kook
Foundation, 1985) talks of LHQHKROLHQ, “measure for measure”—because their sins were like
“menstrual uncleanness” they were punished by being regarded as a LHR—isolated, discarded, and
mocked—in Lam 1:8. Following Rashi and some midrashim, other commentators are more positive
on the comparison to LHR because that state is one of temporary impurity and can be removed! See
Moshe Eisenman, Ezekiel: A New Translation with a Commentary Anthologized from Talmudic,
Midrashic, and Rabbinic Sources (3 vols.; ArtScroll Tanach Series; Brooklyn, N.Y.: Masorah
Publications, 1980) 2:554. See also Andrew Mein, Ezekiel and the Ethics of Exile (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2001) 160–76 on the symbolism of blood, especially menstrual blood.
33
As translated by the Jewish Publication Society (hereafter JPS).
34
This “Passover” is one of the differences between Ezekiel’s vision of the temple ritual and
that prescribed in the Priestly portions of the Pentateuch.

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remain part of what is offered up to God (e.g., Ezek 44:7). But the shedding of
blood and associated violence (WQN) is also to be mitigated and controlled by careful
measurement.35 Dismemberment and bodily mutilation (e.g., in chapter 23, cutting
off of ears, noses, and breasts) is transmuted into the careful, ritualized cutting up of
sacrificial animals. Strikingly, there is only limited detail of the sacrificial procedure
and no references to the butchering and disposal of different parts of the sacrificial
animals (other than the mention that there is a kitchen for boiling the meat).
Sexual Betrayal as Image of the People’s Betrayal of God: The Image of the
Female in Ezekiel36
The most striking female images throughout the book are the personifications
of Jerusalem and of Israel and Judah as women who are sexually depraved. In
chapter 16 Jerusalem is a female infant abandoned at birth by her foreign parents,
unwashed, unattended, and covered with blood, who is rescued, adopted, and reared
to glorious womanhood by God, who later marries her. She subsequently betrays
God, her rescuer-parent-spouse, and acts as a harlot:
You lavished your favors on every passerby . . . you even took some of your
cloths and made yourself tapestried platforms and fornicated on them. . . . You
35
Kutsko, along with other commentators, argues in regard to bloodshed in Ezekiel and bloodshed
in the Genesis flood story that the prescribed sacrifice of animals is a way of containing the wanton
shedding of human and animal blood. Also common to these two texts of catastrophe, Ezekiel and
Genesis, is the use of measurement and precision to contain the anxiety provoked by the possibility
of obliteration. The P portions of the flood story present precise dates and measurements as the
narrator needs to specify the exact dimensions of the ark, the precise dates of beginning of the
flood, the stages of abatement, the end of the flood, and the depth of water covering the mountains
(Gen 6:11–8:14).
36
This topic has been extremely controversial in the biblical interpretive literature of the last
decades, including on Ezekiel. Authors who view the book of Ezekiel as misogynistic and pornographic
include: Julie Galambush, Jerusalem in the Book of Ezekiel: The City as Yahweh’s Wife (SBL
Dissertation Series 130; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1992); Fokkleien van Dijk–Hemmes and Athalya
Brenner, “The Metaphorization of Woman in Prophetic Speech: An Analysis of Ezekiel 23,” in On
Gendering Texts: Female and Male Voices in the Hebrew Bible (Leiden: Brill, 1993) 167–76; Cheryl
Exum, “Prophetic Pornography,” in Plotted, Shot, and Painted: Cultural Representations of Biblical
Women (JSOTSupp. 215: Gender, Culture, Theory 3; Sheffield, U.K.: Sheffield Academic Press,
1996) 101–28. For critiques of these views, see Robert Carroll, “Desire under the Terebinths: On
Pornographic Representation in the Prophets: A Response,” in A Feminist Companion to the Latter
Prophets (ed. Athalya Brenner; The Feminist Companion to the Bible 8; Sheffield, U.K.: JSOT Press,
1995) and “ ‘Whorusalamin’: A Tale of Three Cities as Three Sisters,” in On Reading Prophetic Texts:
Gender Specific and Related Studies in Memory of Fokkleien van Dijk-Hemmes (ed. Bob Becking
and Meindert Dijkstra; Leiden: Brill, 1996); Corrine Patton, “ ‘Should Our Sister Be Treated Like
a Whore?’: A Response to Feminist Critiques of Ezekiel 23,” in The Book of Ezekiel: Theological
and Anthropological Perspectives, 221–38; Daniel Smith-Christopher, “Ezekiel in Abu Ghraib,” in
Ezekiel’s Hierarchical World, 141–57; and Greenberg’s Ezekiel 21–37, 493–94, in which he offers
criticism of van Dijk–Hemmes, “The Metaphorization of Woman,” and Galambush, Jerusalem in
the Book of Ezekiel. I originally thought Galambush’s characterization of 16 and 23 as pornography
(etymologically, the “portrayal of a prostitute”) was overdrawn, but now I am more inclined to see
the texts as having some underlying theme of rousing male sexual excitement.

BENNETT SIMON

423

took your beautiful things, made of the gold and silver that I had given you,
and you made yourself phallic images (VO^]QP\) and fornicated with them.
. . . You even took the sons and daughters that you bore to Me and sacrificed
them to those [images] as food—as if your harlotries were not enough, you
slaughtered My children and presented them as offerings to them! . . . You
played the whore with your neighbors, the lustful Egyptians—you multiplied
your harlotries to anger Me. . . . I will surrender you to the will of your
enemies, the Philistine women, who are shocked by your lewd behavior.
(Ezek 16:15–17, 20–21, 26–27)37

Jerusalem’s sisters are Sodom and Samaria (the ten tribes of Israel taken in captivity
by Assyria) and she exceeds them in wantonness and perversity.
In Ezekiel 23 there is an elaborated allegory of two sisters, Oholah and
Oholibah:38
O mortal, once there were two women, daughters of one mother. They played
the whore in Egypt; they played the whore while still young. There their
breasts were squeezed and there their virgin nipples were handled. Their
names were: the elder one, Oholah; and her sister, Oholibah. They became
Mine [i.e., God’s] and they bore sons and daughters. As for their names,
Oholah is Samaria, and Oholibah is Jerusalem. (Ezek 23:2–4)39

The author concatenates the images of wanton sexuality with images of the
punishments and humiliations meted out by God for his wives’ betrayal of him,
exacerbated by Oholibah’s refusal to learn from the fate of her older sister.
The nations after whom they went whoring, courting their political favor and
worshipping their idols, will turn on Jerusalem:
Assuredly . . . I am going to rouse against you the lovers from whom you
turned in disgust, and I will bring them upon you from all around—the
Babylonians and all the Chaldeans . . . and all the Assyrians with them. (Ezek
23:22–23)40

The sisters sent for men from afar, lusting after foreign men whose penises were
like donkey penises and whose ejaculates were like those of stallions. There are
37

JPS.
JPS. Meanings disputed, but one plausible explanation is Ohalah=“her tent” and Oholibah=“My
tent is in her,” i.e., Jerusalem is where I, God, have pitched my tent. Is there an allusion to the two
sisters, daughters of Lot, who slept with their father in Gen 19:30–38?
39.
See 16:36 and Greenberg’s translation (Ezekiel 1–20, 271) and commentary (ibid., 225–26)
as referring to the “juice” of female sexual arousal. S. Tamar Kamionkowski, Gender Reversal
and Cosmic Chaos: A Study on the Book of Ezekiel (JSOTSupp. 368; London: Sheffield Academic
Press, 2003) expands upon Greenberg’s interpretation of the differences between chs. 16 and 23.
Kaminkowski emphasizes the activity of the woman in 16: she is an active, initiating woman,
arousing and aroused, and hence, behaving more like a man, thus compounding the awfulness of
her behavior and upsetting binary categories of male and female. She emphasizes that in Ezekiel
“[a] weak man is a woman”; males degraded by defeat and exile need to ward off any implications
of being like women.
40
JPS.
38

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HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW

images in the later verses of this chapter of courtesans in brothels, with perfumes,
couches, and jewelry. Political infidelity, sexual misconduct, sacrifice of children,
and adultery are here conflated:
Arraign Oholah and Oholibah, and charge them with their abominations. For
they have committed adultery, and blood is on their hands; truly they have
committed adultery with their fetishes, and have even offered to them as food
the children they bore to Me. (Ezek 23:36–37)41

And finally:
I will put an end to wantonness in the land; and all the women shall take
warning not to imitate your wantonness. They shall punish you for your
wantonness and you shall suffer the penalty for your sinful idolatry. And you
shall know that I am the Lord GOD. (Ezek 23:48–49)42

Several striking features emerge from these chapters and passages. Wanton female
sexuality serves as a vehicle for conveying the appalling nature of what the
people––mostly men and male leaders!––have done. The people have betrayed God,
looked to foreign nations, to idols, for salvation, thereby committing fornication
and adultery. Bloodshed can be seen both literally in the sacrifice of children to
idols, and also figuratively in the sacrifice of children in war and siege as a result
of Israel’s wanton alliances with other nations. Elsewhere in the book, social
injustice is conflated with abominations of worship committed in the temple, and
the sins of the rulers represent a falling away from the compact with God, their
one true husband.43 The male rulers who have misled the people have themselves
been wanton and whoring.44
Secondly, behind the picture of female promiscuity there is a reference point of
sexually proper women, women whose sensibilities are outraged by this promiscuity.
Even the Philistine women are scandalized by the Israelites, and the stoning of the
adulterous sisters in the allegory serves as a warning and reminder to all women.
It is clear, then, that the text does not explicitly condemn the women of Israel, or
women generally, but in its implicit use of the imagery of unbridled female sexuality
there is a reinforcement of cultural norms about “good” and “bad” women.

41

JPS.
JPS. Ezekiel’s rage against perfidious/promiscuous women might also have been fueled by
some captive Israelite women “cooperating” sexually with their conquerors in the forced marches
and exile.
43
Ezekiel, qua priest, combines the ritual prescriptions of P with the social and ethical
prescriptions of H.
44
The women (13:17–23) who prophesy falsely and practice witchcraft and divination are
less dangerous than the false male prophets who mislead the people into destructive political
ventures.
42

BENNETT SIMON

425

I believe we are dealing with a fantasy structure, the splitting of women into
good and bad avatars, Madonna and prostitute.45 In brief, this psychic maneuver of
dividing up the world of women into nurturing mother and selfish, lustful prostitute
does much to protect a male self-esteem made fragile by male fears of dependency
on women and the concomitant assumption that to be a weak male is equivalent
to being a woman.
The one good woman explicitly mentioned in the book is Ezekiel’s wife.46 In
Ezekiel 24, we learn of God’s announcement to him that his wife is shortly to
die—on January 15, 588 B.C.E., the tenth of Tevet, when the siege of Jerusalem
would begin (the siege that would end in the city’s destruction and the exile of its
people). The juxtaposition of the female sexual promiscuity in Ezekiel 23 with the
announcement from God that his wife, who is precious to him, will die, is quite
striking: “Oh mortal, I am about to take away the delight of your eyes [i.e., your
wife] from you through pestilence, but you shall not lament or weep or let your
tears flow,” God announces in 24:16, and within two verses the prophecy is fulfilled:
“In the evening my wife died, and in the morning I did as I had been commanded”
(24:18).47 This conveys a symbolic message—Jerusalem and the temple are the
“delight of your eyes” (Þ]R]?HQNQ) of the people of Israel and these are to be taken
away from them and destroyed. The temple is also compared to a wonderful wife
and woman, the delight of her husband’s eyes.48 Implied in the phrase “delight of
the eyes” is a licit sexuality and sensuality. In a way, one could look at that phrase
as a distillate of the sensuality and sexuality that is extolled in the Song of Songs.

45
See Sigmund Freud’s three essays, “Contributions to the Psychology of Love,” in The Standard
Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (24 vols.; London: Hogarth, 1957)
11:163–208 on the psychological splitting of the woman into good woman/nurturing mother and bad
woman/sexual creature. The “complexity” of the Oedipus complex entails the little boy confronting
the evidence of his mother’s intimacy and sexuality with the father. Further conflicted by his love for
the father, the child can experience anger, frustration, betrayal, and rivalry with the father and severe
disappointment with the mother. Defensively, the little boy divides the world of women into good
women and bad women and thereby tries to preserve his relationship with the mother as a “good
woman.” A corollary of this split is the little boy’s “rescue fantasy,” imagining himself as a kind
of knight rescuing the damsel in distress from a dragon or a wicked man—covertly the father. The
history of changes in the concept of the Oedipus complex is summarized in Jean Laplanche and Jean
Baptiste Pontalis, The Language of Psychoanalysis (trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith; London: Hogarth,
1973); Bennett Simon and Rachel Blass, “The Oedipus Complex,” in The Cambridge Companion
to Freud (ed. Jerome Neu; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991) 161–74; and Bennett
Simon, “Is the Oedipus Complex Still Central in Psychoanalysis: Three Obstacles to Answering the
Question,” Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association 39 (1991) 641–68.
46
See Johanna Stiebert’s imaginative portrait of Ezekiel’s wife in The Exile and the Prophet’s
Wife: Historic Events and Marginal Perspectives (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 2005).
47
JPS.
48
Orthodox Jewish commentaries struggle with the question of whether God is cruel here either
to cause or to utilize this death as a way of making a symbolic statement, and/or whether he is
cruel to forbid Ezekiel open expression of grief. See Greenberg, Ezekiel 21–37, 507–16 and Odell,
Ezekiel, 315–22 for more extensive discussion.

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That work forms the polar opposite of the portrayal of indecent sexuality found
in Ezekiel 16 and 23.49
Another facet of this splitting of the woman may be seen in reference to the
land as woman. Both of the usual Hebrew nouns for “land” are grammatically
feminine. In symbolic terms, it is also typically feminine. It can be the good
maternal image—“land of milk and honey”—or it can be contaminated. In Ezekiel
the contaminations and impurities are described using specific female imagery of
menstruation (e.g., 36:17). The blood of menstruation is conflated with the blood
of murder and violence. Both kinds of blood can defile. The temple, the sanctuary,
is a necessary part of the process of purging and purification, but that very temple
implicitly is also the woman who can be made impure.50
The extremely charged and disgust-ridden passages about the house of Israel
as whores in chapters 16 and 23 make it impossible to ignore the question of what
Ezekiel is saying about women in general. The crux of the current debate over
these chapters is how much to use the lens of recent feminist biblical criticism
to understand them. Are Ezekiel’s characterizations misogynistic and/or are we
encountering a conception of male-female relationships that is culturally syntonic
with the worldview of the book, and therefore not so much misogynistic as
espousing a very polarized view of male and female? My own position is that
the extreme polarization of male and female is more likely to be associated with
a downgrading of the female than of the male. Further, for many modern readers
including myself, the vividness of the denunciation of Israel as harlot leaves a bad
taste in the mouth—it is neither nice nor designed to be nice.
Even when Ezekiel concludes that there will be a return of the people to God
and an end to the harlotry, it is not a loving return:
Nevertheless, I will remember the covenant I made with you in the days of
your youth, and I will establish it with you as an everlasting covenant. . . .
Thus you shall remember and feel shame, and you shall be too abashed to
open your mouth again, when I have forgiven you for all that you did—declares the Lord GOD. (Ezek 16:60, 63)51

There is a striking contrast with the earlier use in Hosea of the imagery of harlotry
and betrayal. There Israel’s return to her husband (God) is marked by declarations
from God of eternal loyalty and mercy, including the term HWN, “loving kindness”
49
See Galambush, Jerusalem in the Book of Ezekiel, 140, and Song of Songs 5:16 for HQNQ as
sexual pleasure. HQNQ is not only used in relation to sensuality and sexuality, but also in relation
to the “delight” that a parent might take in a child.
50
See Jacob Milgrom on the root VTO , meaning primarily to purge and purify and only
secondarily to atone: “Atonement,” in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (ed. Keith Crim
et al.; Nashville: Abingdon, 1976) and his commentaries on Leviticus, especially Leviticus 1–16,
1079–84. See also Baruch Schwartz, “Ezekiel’s Dim View of Israel’s Restoration,” in The Book of
Ezekiel, 43–68, esp. 49.
51
JPS.

BENNETT SIMON

427

(Hos 2:21–25). The poetry is sweeter and the reconciliation there leaves a better
taste than that in Ezekiel, where in fact the term HWN is not found.
I suggest that in the book of Ezekiel one concomitant of the splitting of the
woman is the need to bolster male self-esteem against a fear of feminization. The
male psyche in this unconscious mode of thinking equates dependency on women
with feminization, and the very figure of the “feminine” itself already signifies
degradation. The other pole, woman as prostitute, allows for male domination and
exploitation rather than the submission unconsciously signified by being dependent.
For a defeated, humiliated people in exile, feeling abandoned by their God, the
masculine ego is dangerously wounded, perhaps even gashed and bleeding, like a
male version of the menstruating woman. The book of Ezekiel, in this construction,
shares a culturally prevalent view of manhood and manliness that includes the notion
that to be like a woman, whether a promiscuous woman or an abandoned woman,
is the worst fate a man can suffer. The ultimate degradation is to be feminized.52
One can further speculate that God, the God portrayed by Ezekiel, is disavowing
a feminine side of himself.
But, the feminine does not square: there is no place for feminine imagery in
Ezekiel 40–48. Rather, we find a progressive elimination of the feminine from
the book, culminating in chapters 40–48, where there is scarcely any mention
of women and no feminine imagery. Prior to these last chapters, we find that the
image at the end of chapter 16 of God’s restoring the marriage between him and
Jerusalem is a fragile one.
Galambush points out that after Ezekiel 23, the metaphor of marriage between
God and Jerusalem, or God and Israel, disappears: “The personified city has proven
to be an utterly unacceptable consort to the god. . . . [R]ather, the elimination of the
marriage metaphor will be an apparent precondition for the renewed and sustainable
purity of Yahweh’s new house in Ezekiel 40–48.”53 By extension, in the vision of
the temple chapters Jerusalem is no longer personified, not even named, and clearly
not gendered; it is called only “the city,” and, in the last verse of the book, its name

52
See Patton, “ ‘Should Our Sister Be Treated Like a Whore?’,” 232 and Odell, Ezekiel, 184, who
argue this point also in relation to Ezekiel. See also Cook and Patton, “Introduction: Hierarchical
Thinking and Theology in Ezekiel’s Book,” in Ezekiel’s Hierarchical World, 1–23. Daniel SmithChristopher, “Ezekiel in Abu Ghraib,” in Ezekiel’s Hierarchical World, 141–57, sees the imagery
of the harlot Israel stripped naked (Ezek 16) as deriving from male prisoners being stripped naked
and humiliated, scenes depicted in Babylonian and Assyrian accounts of their conquests. Patton
adds rape of male prisoners to the list of humiliations. See Kamionkowski, Gender Reversal,
especially 58–91. On “feminization” as a sign of humiliating defeat in battle, see Herodotus, Hist.
2.102, for king Sesotris who would erect a stela portraying female genitalia commemorating his
defeat of a cowardly enemy. The History: Herodotus (trans. David Grene; Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1987) 172–73.
53
Galambush, Jerusalem in the Book of Ezekiel, 125. Other women include the mother of the
kings of Judah (Ezekiel 19) whose sons did badly for the kingdom (see the discussion in Greenberg,
Ezekiel 1–20, 354–56).

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is changed from “Jerusalem,” with its now pagan and depraved connotations, to
“the Lord is there” (48:35).
I hypothesize that the elimination of the female and feminine imagery in these
last chapters is an indication that the male fantasy of a split between the virtuous
woman and the prostitute is not stable and is not adequate to protect against the
dread of female wildness and the concomitant male fear of feminization. The
personages in those chapters are all male: priests, Levites, the “prince” (E]GR),
Ezekiel himself, and the “man” who shows him the measurements. Women are
mentioned in only two contexts, priests’ marriage and death. In the first category
are women the priests can marry: virgin women of the house of Israel or widows
of priests, but no widows or divorced women. In the second category are deceased
relatives of the priest: The priest is forbidden to enter a house in which there is a
corpse, except if the deceased is blood kin—mother, father, son, daughter, brother,
or unmarried sister.54
Here, the “presence” of God is a masculine, not a feminine, manifestation, as
might be the case in later Judaism. This is not the LR]Op, which appears figuratively in
rabbinic literature, and certainly not the “feminine principle” of God, the personified
female presence of God, to be reunited with the Tiferet, the masculine principle,
that appears in the mystical tradition.55 Rather, here it is “the glory of God” (H[FO)
that Ezekiel glimpses, that departs from the temple still standing in Jerusalem, and
that in his last vision returns to dwell in the restored temple (Ezek 43–44).
Further, the temple vision is almost totally devoid of feminine elements, with
the one possible exception of the river flowing from the temple mount (to be
discussed shortly). The temple is sparsely decorated or ornamented. There is the
repeating pattern (cherub, palm tree, cherub, palm tree; 40:24; 41:15–26), and date
palms crown the pillars (40:26, 31, 37). There is no color, nor any of the precious
materials used in Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 6–7), let alone those weavings of
purple and scarlet and fine linen lavishly described as part of the desert tabernacle
(Exod 25–28) where contributions of women are named explicitly!56 In contrast,
in the book of Ezekiel, ornamentation, elaborate bas–relief, jewelry, and color are
all ascribed to the personified whoring women and their foreign paramours, the
Assyrians and Egyptians. These do not belong in the temple.
Additionally, there are no explicitly round or even cylindrical elements in this
temple. Everything is square or rectangular.57 The temple of Solomon and the
54
A convenient summary is Leslie C. Allen, Ezekiel 20–48 (Word Biblical Commentary; Dallas:
World, 1990) 263–65 with references.
55
See, e.g., Joseph Dan, “Shekhinah,” in Encyclopedia Judaica (New York: MacMillan,
1971–1972) 14:1349–54, especially 1354.
56
Moshe Greenberg, “Ezekiel 16: A Panorama of Passions,” in Love and Death in the Ancient
Near East: Essays in Honor of Marvin Pope (ed. John H. Marks and Richard M. Good; Guilford,
Conn.: Four Quarters, 1987) 143–51, at 147.
57
However, at least one translation assumes that ˜PE, pillar, is cylindrical (Eisenman, Ezekiel,
615, 627).

BENNETT SIMON

429

tabernacle of the wilderness included round features, especially basins for washing.
Solomon’s temple had a huge basin called the “sea.” There were also in that first
temple two cylindrical pillars, although, as their masculine-power names suggest
(Boaz, “with strength” and Jachin, “he will establish”) one could argue these must
have conveyed something more phallic than feminine. One cannot argue that what
is omitted in the text was barred or banned by Ezekiel (for example, no pots for
boiling are described, but since boiling of the sacrificial meats is necessary, one
would need pots, presumably round, not square). But from the point of view of the
impact of the description, the omission of obviously or stereotypically feminine
elements in this blueprint is significant.58
The one important possible exception to the absence of the feminine in the closing
chapters of Ezekiel is the marvelous vision of a fertilizing river that will come out of
the temple and divide into four heads, creating virtually a new garden of Eden, even
fertilizing the Dead Sea (47:1–12).59 Even here, in the description of a trickle that
grows to an impassable river, there are a series of precise measurements: four times,
the man “with a cord in his hand measured one thousand cubits” (Ezek 47:3–5). Is
this fertilizing river feminine? Masculine? It is not specifically gendered, although
river, VLR, is grammatically masculine. Its fertilizing effects evoke imagery of the
Garden of Eden, and it heals the sick land. The Salt Sea is purged and fish flourish
in it, although at the edges salty areas are left, presumably for harvesting salt needed
for the sanctuary offerings (43:24).60 I suggest that this scene is at best ambiguously
gendered in the same way that the descriptions of creation and fertility in the
early chapters of Genesis are not clearly gendered. Insofar as it is unambiguously
gendered, it is a masculine God who is planting and fostering reproduction.61 The
58
Margaret S. Odell, Ezekiel (Macon, Ga.: Smyth and Helwys, 2005) xiv and 484, by contrast,
sees a domestic, feminine note in the presence of temple kitchens, an interpretation consonant with
her view of chapters 40–48 as inclusive rather than primarily segregating.
59
See Lawrence Stager, “Jerusalem and the Garden of Eden,” in Eretz–Israel 26 (1999) 183–94
(Frank Moore Cross volume); Jon Levenson, Resurrection and the Restoration of Israel (New
Haven: Yale University Press, 2006) 82–107. In Ezekiel, both Eden and the temple are atop a
mountain (28:11–14), “God’s mountain.” See Michael Fishbane, “Tehom and Temple,” in idem,
Biblical Myth and Rabbinic Mythmaking (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003) 126–29, for the
tabernacle and temple imagined on a mountain that capped and contained the primordial raging
waters and primordial monsters.
60
The salt is both an impurity, or at the very least, anti-life and anti-reproduction in the Dead
Sea, but also a permanent, unalterable substance that is necessary for the sacrifices that in fact
purge sin and impurity.
61
In chapter 34, where God restores the fertility of the land, there is no feminine image of
fertility. I believe that a Midrashic interpretation of the stream as connected with Miriam’s well
actually highlights the absence of a feminine aspect in the text itself. See Eisenman, Ezekiel, 737
n. 1. I speculate that the word V[UQ, “source,” elsewhere used in the Bible as “source of living
waters,” is not used here because it is also a word for the female genitalia. For the possibility that
the stream is male, symbolizing semen, see the Talmudic elaboration (b. Sotah 10a) of Samson’s
life and size, commenting on Judg 13:24 “and the lad grew and God blessed him”: “His penis is like
that of an ordinary man, but his emission (seed) is like an overflowing river” (œJ[pPNR) echoing
Isa 66:12, an image of overflowing wealth and prosperity (pointed out by David Grossman, Lion’s

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imagery of the trickle of water dramatically turning into a mighty river is evocative
of masculine images of powerful urinary and ejaculatory streams. Perhaps this
stream represents a radical transformation of the copious stallion-like ejaculates
of the lovers of Oholibah at Ezek 23:20.
To return to the detailed description of the temple courtyards and compartments
with their exits and entrances: the temple itself is not gendered, but the emphasis
on carefully regulated exists and entrances presents a striking contrast to the
unregulated “entrances” in the allegories of faithless women in chapters 16 and
23.62 These women take on all comers, showing neither discrimination nor control
of their bodily orifices. In the restored temple, no uncircumcised men can enter
(44:7, 9) as they had apparently been allowed to enter the Solomonic temple and,
clearly, the bodies of faithless Jerusalem and Samaria. The uncontrolled orifices
suggest both mouth and genitalia—mouth through the sacrifice of children as food
for idols (e.g., 5:11 and 23:31–37 for the devouring of children),63 and genitalia
through the terms of uncontrolled lust (e.g., 16:25). In stark contrast, in the new
vision, traffic into and out of the temple will be carefully regulated.
The Old Self and the New Self of the People: Measurement and Morality
(43:10–11)
Chapters 1–24, so harsh and full of condemnation of the house of Israel, yield a
cumulative portrait of a people rebellious, impudent, and stubborn—Ezekiel is
sent to them to live surrounded by briars, thorns, and scorpions (ch. 2). But God
has decided, for his own sake, to redeem the house of Israel, and in chapter 36,
announces how he will transform them. He will cleanse them with clean water, and:
“A new heart I will give you and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove
from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezek 36:26).
But how will this hold? I believe that chapters 40–48 are required to assure the
permanence of this new heart and new spirit. The connection between transforming
the moral and religious wildness and sinfulness of the people by means of temple
measurement is explicit in Ezek 43:10–11:
As for you, mortal, describe the temple to the house of Israel, and let them
measure the pattern (X]ROX) and let them be ashamed of their iniquities.
When they are ashamed of all that they have done, make known to them the
plan of the temple, its arrangement, its exits and its entrances, and its whole
Honey: The Myth of Samson [trans. Stuart Schoffman; Edinburgh: Schoffman, 2006]). Compare
the seminal emissions of the lovers of Oholibah in Ezek 23.
62
Relevant is the equation of Ezekiel’s wife with the temple (24:15–17). See Galambush,
Jerusalem in the Book of Ezekiel, 147–57, and Lapsley, “Doors Thrown Open,” 141–45. On the
New Testament overlap between temple and body see, e.g., 1 Cor 6:12–19; 3:16–17; Eph 2:17–22;
Mk 7:14–23; Jn 2:14–22, esp. 2:21 (Keith Stone, personal communication).
63
See Moskovitz’s commentary on 16:25, “opening wide your legs,” from the root UpT, (only
twice used in the Hebrew Bible), in which he compares it to Proverbs 13:3 on the destructive
opening of the mouth.

BENNETT SIMON

431

form—all its ordinances and its entire plan and all its laws; and write down
in their sight, so that they may observe and follow the entire plans and its
ordinances.

What is the import of these verses, whose interpretation is controversial? First,
the wording of v. 10 begins with a reiteration of the motif of the “house”—“tell
the house of Israel about the House,” as if to say, until Israel has built this house
according to the measurements, and this house has become a part of it, Israel is
not fully a “house,” but remains the stubborn and defiant house that it has hitherto
been.
On the phrase “measure the X]ROX,” Zimmerli64 and Breuer65 both emphasize
the root ÚOX as signifying perfection and completion. Breuer adds “a weighing and
establishment of the [true] individual proportion of things, of their [true] relationship
to one another; . . . [t]he numerical ratio of the parts of the whole to one another.”
Compare the English phrase “it doesn’t square.” We thus see a confluence of proper
proportion in the moral and architectural realms.
Verses 43:10–11 follow Ezekiel’s vision of God’s glory, the H[FO, entering the
temple through the gate facing east with noise and light illuminating the earth. God
announces his permanent residence there. Then the house of Israel is to be told
about this house and God’s residence within, and they are to “measure the pattern,”
at which point they will be ashamed. And if they have indeed become ashamed of
what they have done, Ezekiel is to tell them all the details of the structures and of
the protocols or precepts, and write it down to reaffirm it that they may observe
and preserve it.
Ezekiel explicitly likens this vision of God’s “glory” (or “honor”) to his earlier
visions, but that “glory” enters the sanctuary unattended. The H[FO has become
“rarified” and “de-angelicized.” This supposition is consonant with the fact that
the holy of holies is now empty, no longer containing cherubim (live or statuary),
ark, or tablets of the commandments—it is aniconic.66 The structure of the “house”
and the nature of the indwelling H[FO will therefore contribute to a construction
and stabilization of the new self, a self with knowledge of its own behavior and its
consequences, knowledge induced by shame and set in motion by God’s action—a
new “moral self.”67 God’s transformation of his people involves a transformation
in the nature and quality of shame that they experience, a shift from the shame and
humiliation of defeat, exile, degradation, to a shame of self–awareness.
64
Walther Zimmerli, Ezekiel: A Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel (ed. Paul Hanson
with Leonard J. Greenspoon; trans. James D. Martin; 2 vols.; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983) 2:410.
65
Joseph Breuer, The Book of Yechzkel: Translation and Commentary (trans. Gertrude Hirschler;
New York: Feldheim, 1993) 251. See also Ezek 18:25 for the use of the root ÚOX in the sense that
the moral judgments are, as it were, “out of proportion” to the rewards and punishment.
66
Jacob Milgrom (personal communication, 2006) and Paul Joyce, Ezekiel: A Commentary (New
York: T&T Clark, 2005) 227–28.
67
Lapsley, “Shame and Self-Knowledge,” in The Book of Ezekiel: Theological and Anthropological
Perspectives, 143–73, and L. Allen, Ezekiel 20–48, 257.

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The next set of details of altar and sacrifice also help stabilize this new self. God
has given the people a new heart, a heart of flesh instead of a heart of stone, but the
flesh is still too fallible on its own. Therefore the new heart requires structures and
processes in order to stabilize, maintain, and transform itself. Such structures and
processes not only involve carefully prescribed and measured spaces and rituals,
but also seem to entail increasing interiority or “dematerialization” culminating
in the most sacred space with nothing material in it. There is a potential for a new
inwardness, a new structure of mind and heart that knows differently than it did
before. The carefully designed and unique spaces of the new temple, including its
progressive narrowing into the holiest places, may also serve as a model of the
new mind and heart.
The Wildness of God: “That You May Know I Am Yahweh” and “For the Sake
of My Name”
God’s vindictive wrath, God’s concern for his “name,” God’s concern that “they”
or “you” shall know that I am “YHWH”—these are the hallmarks of most of the
book of Ezekiel. God’s enormous outrage and destructive judgment against the
house of Israel dominate chapters 1–24, and his rage against both Israel and
the nations is threaded even through chapters 25–39, chapters of renewal and
redemption. The prophet brings the message home that the house of Israel has
utterly deserved all that God has brought and will bring against them. It is not the
sins of previous generations for which they are paying, but their very own deeds
of violence, licentiousness, and betrayal. Consider a few of the images of wrath
and destruction, and desolation:
In Ezek 21:8–10 God unsheathes his sword against Israel; righteous and
unrighteous alike shall fall, he shall never return it to its sheath. In Ezek 23:25, “I
will direct my indignation against you, in order that they [the Babylonians] may
deal with you in fury. They shall cut off your nose and your ears, and your survivors
shall fall by the sword. They shall seize your sons and your daughters, and your
survivors shall be devoured by fire.” In the condemnation of Oholibah (Jerusalem)
in Ezek 23:32–35: “You shall drink your sister’s cup, deep and wide; you shall be
scorned and derided, it holds so much. You shall be filled with drunkenness and
sorrow. A cup of horror and desolation is the cup of your sister Samaria; you shall
drink it and drain it out, and gnaw its sherds, and tear out your breasts.”
God’s rage at other nations and his destruction and degradation of these nations
is detailed. Tyre shall be brought down from its haughtiness; Egypt, Edom,
Ammon, and the Philistines will variously suffer destruction and humiliation (e.g.,
Pharaoh, presumably circumcised, is disgraced and condemned to Sheol among the
uncircumcised). God’s rage is fueled by feelings of being dishonored, disgraced,
and even cuckolded (as in chapters 16 and 23). The H[FO of God is both his “glory”
and the honor owed to him. Rage cannot abate till honor is restored. Humiliation
is a recurrent theme of the punishment both of Israel and of the nations.

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433

God’s destructiveness is augmented in the recurrent phrases of “I shall not pity,”
“my eye shall not pity,” and “I will show no mercy.” Terms of mercy and pity
generally appear only in the negative in the book, except when God says he shall
have pity on his own name.68 When he decides to reverse his course and redeem
the house of Israel, bring them back to their land, install a good shepherd, and
have them live in peace and security, it is his own decision; he is not moved by the
people’s repentance or by pity. Perhaps he is moved by covenantal loyalty, but he
is definitely motivated to protect his reputation among the nations.
“Radical theocentricity,” a phrase used by Paul Joyce, well captures the sense in
which God is preoccupied with the need to have the greatness of his name recognized
by all and to deny any limitations on his power.69 Indeed, paradoxically, God’s
destruction of the house of Israel, a manifest proof of God’s power to punish the
disloyalty and betrayal of his people, is an invitation for the nations of the world to
say that God is not powerful and cannot even protect his own people. This “taunt”
by the nations provokes God, as it were, to ever more strongly announce that
“you” (the house of Israel”) or “they” (the nations) shall “know that I am God.”
These phrases and variants occur roughly seventy-five times in the book, and are
conspicuously absent from 40–48.
According to these earlier chapters, God must act that “all should know that I
am Yahweh” and “for the sake of my name.” Chapter 36 combines the themes of
God’s concern for his name and the theme of “they shall know that I am God”:
But I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned
among the nations to which they came. Therefore say to the house of Israel,
Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am
about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned
among the nations to which you came. I will sanctify my great name, which
has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among
them; and the nations shall know that I am the Lord, says the Lord God, when
through you I display my holiness before their eyes [and take you back to
your own land]. (Ezek 36:21–23)

The vindictive wrath of God that runs through much of the book begins to become
significantly modified in the chapters preceding 40–48, especially 33–37. These
chapters, including 37 with its vision of the valley of the dry bones and the
restoration to life of those bones, continue themes and images of judgment,
condemnation, and the violent consequences of the misdeeds of the house of Israel.
But they add messages of hope: restoration for the house of Israel and punishment
of nations that have attacked Israel. The ratio definitely shifts in the direction of
68
Ezekiel 39:25 is a seeming exception (]XQNV[), but the coupling of mercy and jealousy for
his name dilutes the role of mercy.
69
The present discussion has profited much from Paul M. Joyce, Divine Initiative and Human
Response in Ezekiel (Sheffield, U.K.: Sheffield Academic Press, 1989) and his Ezekiel: A Commentary.
On “for the sake of my name,” the fundamental work is Walther Zimmerli, I Am Yahweh (ed. Walter
Brueggemann; trans. Douglas W. Stott; Atlanta: John Knox, 1982).

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renewal and restoration. Chapters 40–48 carry out a program of restoration without
violent images either of destruction or of revenge, and a program dictated with
measurements and with measured tone. In fact, a kind of calm descends upon the
text and the language becomes more ordinary, contained, and factual.70 The phrase
“you shall know that I am YHWH” and prospective concern for his name do not
occur in these chapters. The structure of the temple, the details of measurement,
bound and bind the powerful destructive affects of both man and God.

■ Cracks in the Wall
The visionary temple where God will establish his dwelling forever among the
children of Israel (43:7) is massive. The walls surrounding Ezekiel’s temple are
extraordinarily thick, some 10–11 feet (40:5; 41:5),71 and the gates or gatehouses
are formidable, bulwarks, not just walls.72 I suggest that, figuratively, such thick
and formidable structures are needed as bulwarks against the possibility that the
restored people, renewed in mind and heart, may again break faith and backslide.
Alternatively—or additionally—the structures are needed as a kind of guarantee
that God will not relent on his pledge, “this is the place of my throne and the place
for the soles of my feet, where I will reside among the people of Israel forever”
(Ezek 43:7).
I suggest that the “geometric vision” in these last chapters temporarily resolves,
but does not solve, all the tensions and anxieties implicit in the story of the
relationship between God and the house of Israel. Job does not disappear, nor the
torment of the psalmist pleading with God:
Yet you [God] have rejected us and abased us, and have not gone out with our
armies. . . . You have made us like sheep for slaughter and have scattered us
among the nations. . . . All this has come upon us, yet we have not forgotten
you, or been false to your covenant. Our heart has not turned back, nor have
our steps departed from your way, yet you have broken us in the haunt of
jackals and covered us with deep darkness. (Ps 44:9–19)

The facts of exile and the destruction of the temple loom large, along with the
question of how the community can ensure that there will not be a repetition of
70
Ezekiel 43:7–9 does mention God’s wrath and how his holy name was defiled (but will no
longer be defiled), but this is singular in these chapters and is in the past tense.
71
A literal break in the wall is described in 8:7–8, the hole in the temple wall, which Ezekiel
is commanded to dig out and enlarge to see, or to enter a courtyard and see the abominations there
being performed.
72
See The New Oxford Annotated Bible, 1238 (Hebrew Bible) and Zimmerli, Ezekiel 2, 349
for the length of the cubit. No thickness is given for the walls of Solomon’s temple. The desert
tabernacle had only skins and curtains for walls. For the dimensions of the temple of the Temple
Scroll (11QT), see Johann Maier, “The Architectural History of the Temple in Jerusalem in the Light
of the Temple Scroll,” in Temple Scroll Studies: Papers Presented at the International Symposium
on the Temple Scroll, Manchester, December 1987 (ed. George J. Brooke; Journal for the Study of
the Pseudepigrapha Supplement Series 7; Sheffield, U.K.; JSOT, 1989) 23–61.

BENNETT SIMON

435

the calamities that destroyed the first temple. For example, there is the problem of
proportionality or lack of proportionality between sin and the ensuing punishment,
as expressed in different forms throughout the book. Sons are not to suffer
punishment for the sins of their fathers (and vice versa, Ezek 18:2–4), but it is
not entirely clear whether the destruction of the first temple and the exile can be
attributed to the sins of this generation, to the fathers’ sins, or to the sins of King
Manasseh, several generations back (2 Kings 23:25–28). The cumulative life record
of a person, or of a people, does not seem to be a major deciding factor—the sinner
who becomes righteous is regarded as righteous, but the lifelong righteous person
who sins does not have his history of righteousness remembered by God.73 Thus,
even while Ezekiel 18 sets out Ezekiel’s version of God’s policy of collective and
individual reward for obedience and punishment for disobedience, the resolution
in chapters 40–48 depends on God having restored the people and given them a
new heart, not on the people first having seen the light, experienced their shame
and guilt, and repented.74 How much can one rely on the people’s experience of
shame in maintaining these new conditions of purity and justice?75
Still, could there be uncertainty about the permanence of God’s act of restoration,
including a restored temple with its precise architecture and measurements and
measured rituals? The proportionality of the architecture is clear; that of the relation
between human actions and consequent punishment is not so clear. The degree of
faith that is required is enormous—faith not only in God keeping his word, but
faith in the people keeping theirs.
The durability of the vision of restoration also involves a wish-fulfilling belief—
certainly familiar in the ancient world—that it is God’s doing that determines the
political fate of Israel and the nations. Faith in God’s promise of retribution to
all the nations that have assaulted Israel and the restoration of Israel’s national
73

Ch. 18, with its declaration that each person suffers only for his own behavior, has been the focus
of most of the discussion of the connection between behavior and punishment. It is problematic in its
apparent contradiction to much of what is elsewhere in the book. Along with the commentaries listed
above, see Michael Fishbane, “Sin and Judgment in the Prophecies of Ezekiel,” Int 38 (1984) 131–50;
Gordon H. Matties, Ezekiel 18 and the Rhetoric of Moral Discourse (SBL Dissertation Series 126;
Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1990); Katherine Pfisterer Darr, “Proverb Performance and Transgenerational
Retribution,” in Ezekiel’s Hierarchical World, 199–223. Jon D. Levenson, Resurrection and the
Restoration of Israel, 176–79 discusses Ezekiel 18 in its collective and individual implications,
and the unresolved tensions therein (179). See Joyce, Ezekiel: A Commentary, 19–20 and 23–26
and his Divine Initiative and Human Response, 79–87 on the complex admixture of individual and
collective responsibility in the Hebrew Bible as a whole, and in particular in Ezekiel.
74
See Greenberg, Ezekiel 1–20, 737, “but there is no question that for him [Ezekiel] the change
of human nature was not an act of grace.” For the strongest statement of this point, see Schwartz,
“Ezekiel’s Dim View of Restoration.”
75
See 43:10, bringing together the measurement of the house and the shaming of the house of
Israel. On shame in its varieties and moral implications in Ezekiel, see now Jacquline Lapsley, Can
These Bones Live? The Problem of the Moral Self in the Book of Ezekiel (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2000)
and “Shame and Self-Knowledge: The Positive Role of Shame in Ezekiel’s View of the Moral Self,”
in The Book of Ezekiel: Theological and Anthropological Perspectives, 143–73.

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continuity depends on not believing that larger political currents in the world (e.g.,
the rise and fall of Assyria, Babylonia, Egypt, Tyre, and Edom) determine the life
and fate of the children of Israel. Ezekiel’s vision of the restored twelve tribes of
Israel defies any actual political analysis of why the exile occurred to begin with.76
Indeed, in Ezekiel, Babylon is never blamed!77 What matters is whether or not the
people of Israel behave justly and remain loyal to God. It is a common observation
that those who are relatively powerless, a group or individuals, can find refuge in
blaming themselves for the bad things that happen to them. From the perspective
of a small child, if a death or calamity can be explained as a result of her or his own
bad thoughts and deeds, then potentially other calamitous events can be prevented
by the best behavior and thoughts. Indeed, a frequent experience of adults in the
face of death and disaster is to ruminate, “if only I had done, or said, such and such,
this would not have happened.”
In sum, as invasive plants can work their way through even the sturdiest of stone
walls, so doubts and lapses of faith in God and in oneself can effect such “cracks
in the wall,” thereby posing new challenges for believers.

■ Conclusion and Further Directions of Inquiry
In order to test further the utility of my hypotheses about the uses of measurement
and geometry in Ezekiel as a means to repair the “cracks in the wall,” we would have
to look in two directions: “back” into the rest of the Hebrew Bible and “forward”
to later Jewish and Christian interpretations of these last chapters of Ezekiel. In
narratives involving measurement and precision, does measurement appear in
order to contain chaos, especially the moral chaos inherent in human behavior? As
prime examples, it would be necessary to take a fresh look at the accounts of the
construction of the desert tabernacle and of Solomon’s temple, but we have much
more to explore in this regard as well,78 such as the flood narrative in Genesis and
passages on measurement and boundary such as Isaiah 40:12 and Job 38.

76

See the trenchant comments of David Noel Freedman, The Nine Commandments: Uncovering a
Hidden Pattern of Crime and Punishment in the Hebrew Bible (with Jeffrey Geoghegan and Michael
Homan; ed. Astrid Beck; Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 2000) 161–64, citing 2 Kgs 7:5–17. Ezekiel
needs to be affirmed as a credible prophet and the exiles in Babylon believe in him much more after
his prophecy of the destruction of the temple has been borne out. However, his earlier prophecy
that Tyre will be destroyed by the Babylonians was a failed prophecy, corrected by God promising
Nebuchadnezzar the spoils of Egypt as recompense for his not being able to capture and despoil
Tyre. This prediction also turned out not to be true. See Greenberg, Ezekiel 21–37, 614–18.
77
In contrast to the book of Jeremiah, in which Babylon is mostly not condemned, Nebuchadnezzar
even being declared “my servant” by God; but in several places prophecies of doom against Babylon
are pronounced, e.g., Jer 25:12–14; 50, throughout. See also Ps 137, “By the Rivers of Babylon,”
vv. 8–9.
78
Classic Jewish sources have posited a relation between the golden calf and the giving of
instructions on building the tabernacle, e.g., Rashi on Exodus 31:18. See also Levenson, Creation
and the Persistence of Evil, 78–99. Note the precise quantities of the booty taken and distributed

BENNETT SIMON

437

Looking forward, there are questions to be explored about how Jewish and
Christian commentators struggled to deal with some of the inconsistencies and
difficulties in Ezekiel, especially 40–48. My preliminary explorations suggest that
the attempts to “repair the cracks in the wall” were never entirely satisfactory, but
at the same time, they stimulated creative solutions that did much to sustain both
religious traditions. In Jewish tradition, suggestions in this regard arising from
the work of several authors include: the idea of study as a replacement for the
destroyed temple79; resurrection of the dead;80 legal order, the order of the Mishnah,
as a transformation of geometric order;81 LHQHKROLHQ “measure for measure” in
the dispensing of divine punishment; the transformation of LHQ, as “measure” to
LHQ as moral attribute (especially of God). Another rabbinic extension of the use
of LHQ is in the ascription to God of two modes of judging people, with either the
“attribute (measure) of the law,” ˜]QNVLXHQ or with the “attribute (measure) of
mercy” Ú]HLXHQ.82 As a corollary, one finds in Ezekiel commentaries an evocation
of the reparative role of God’s HWN, “loving-kindness” or “faithfulness” (a term
lacking in Ezekiel) despite human perversity.83
In Christian religious development, commentators often weave the word
“grace” into discussions of the problems raised by Ezekiel,84 as well as emphasis
on resurrection of the dead. Also worthy of reexamination is the complex relation
after the massive slaughter by the Israelites of the Midianites, including Moses’ rebuke of the leaders
for not having killed all the married women and all the male children in Numbers 31.
79
Eisemann, Ezekiel, 671–73, citing Rashi and Radak, in N’vee-em u-K’too-veem, Mikra’ot
Gedolot, Yechezkayl (Jerusalem: M’kor ha-sfareem, 1998).
80
See Levenson, Resurrection and Restoration, especially 82–107, for a complex argument on the
tight linkage between some precursor of resurrection in the Hebrew Bible and the theme of national
restoration. Thus, the sequence of Ezek 37, the vision of the resurrection of the dry bones, the reuniting
of Israel and Judah, and the subsequent chapters on national restoration are of a piece, constituting
a matrix out of which later second temple and rabbinic ideas on resurrection can arise.
81
Jonathan Z. Smith, To Take Place, has argued that the formal and structural features of
Ezekiel’s temple and the relationships of difference that are encoded in those features were suitable
for transformation as replacements for “place” (i.e., the literal temple) by the Mishnaic system of
organizing “differences”: “The place could be replicated in a system of differences transferred from
one realm or locale (for example, Mishnah). For it is not the terms but the relations that mattered”
(85). See also n. 19 above.
82
This distinction in the book of Ezekiel is especially problematic when compared to the other
prophetic books, e.g., Jer 31:20, where God’s personal distress is part of the abundant mercy
([RQNVE˜NV) he will show to Ephraim. “Mercy”(˜]QNV) is not found in Ezekiel; showing mercy
(˜NV) is found only once (39:25), “and I shall be merciful to the whole House of Israel and be
jealous for my holy name” [translation mine].
83
Rashi on 43:10–11 in N’vee-em u-K’too-veem, Mikra’ot Gedolot, Yechezkayl.
84
Lapsley, “Shame and Self–Knowledge,” 158, citing Daniel I. Block, The Book of Ezekiel:
Chapters 1–24 (NICOT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997) 658: “the experience of divine mercy
drives true covenant people to their knees.” See Joyce, Ezekiel: A Commentary, 26–27, for the
argument that it is not anachronistic to read “grace” back into Ezekiel, but rather, “it is Christianity
that is the borrower here. Exilic theological developments are fundamental to New Testament and
especially Pauline theology.”

between Revelation and Ezekiel 40–48 in terms of the replacement of the physical
temple by Christ as temple and by a celestial Jerusalem.85 Concomitantly, the
sacrifice of the Son of God, the Lamb, presents another attempt at solution to the
inevitability of human sinfulness and its effects on God.86
My assumption is that tracking these various developments and attempted
theological solutions would reveal that the search for solution and resolution of
the problems raised in Ezekiel continues. There is a need to integrate the image of
God wielding the “rod of his wrath” and of God holding the “rod of measurement.”
That need resonates with the need to integrate the divided creature that is the human
being, and to answer the question, “how can two beings, each divided within itself,
namely man and God, manage to forge and maintain a durable and trustworthy
connection?”

85
See Jonathan Z. Smith, Drudgery Divine, 121–22, especially 121 n. 14, and references to his
earlier works on the distinction between “locative” (having a space/place) and “utopian” (utopia=“no
place”) forms of salvation. “Locative” precisely describes the temple in Ezekiel—it emphasizes
keeping one’s proper place and reinforcing boundaries: “emplacement is the norm, rectification,
cleaning or healing is undertaken if the norm is breached.” The vision in Revelation of a celestial
Jerusalem with no physical temple is thus “utopian.” For a different view, see Paul Joyce, “Ezekiel
40–42: The Earliest ‘Heavenly Ascent’ Narrative?” in The Book of Ezekiel and Its Influence (ed.
Henk Jan de Jonge and Johannes Tromp; Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007) 17–41 and Ian K. Boxall,
“Exile, Prophet, Visions: Ezekiel’s Influence on the Book of Revelation,” in The Book of Ezekiel
and its Influence, 147–64.
86
See Zimmerli, Ezekiel, 2:420–21: “But the priestly/prophetic witness of Ezekiel 43 still knows
nothing of that terrifying act of God in which he gives himself in his servant, in order to crown his
love, to the unclean world as a pure sin offering (Is 53:10).”

Arboreal Metaphors and the Divine
Body Traditions in the Apocalypse of
Abraham
Andrei Orlov
Marquette University

The first eight chapters of the Apocalypse of Abraham, a Jewish pseudepigraphon
preserved solely in its Slavonic translation, deal with the early years of the hero
of the faith in the house of his father Terah.1 The main plot of this section of the
1
For the published Slavonic manuscripts and fragments of Apoc. Ab., see Ioan Franko, “Книга
о Аврааме праотци и патриарси” [“The Book about the Forefather and the Patriarch Abraham”],
in Апокрiфи i легенди з украiнських рукописiв [The Apocrypha and the Legends From the
Ukrainian Manuscripts] (5 vols.; Monumenta Linguae Necnon Litterarum Ukraino-Russicarum
[Ruthenicarum]; Lvov, Ukraine, 1896–1910) 1:80–86; Alexander I. Jacimirskij, “Откровение
Авраама” [“The Apocalypse of Abraham”], in Апокрифы ветхозаветные [The Old Testament
Pseudepigrapha] (vol. 1 of Библиографический обзор апокрифов в южнославянской и русской
письменности [The Bibliographical Survey of Apocryphal Writings in South Slavonic and Old Russian
Literature]; Petrograd: The Russian Imperial Academy of Sciences, 1921) 99–100; Petr P. Novickij,
ed., “Откровение Авраама” [“The Apocalypse of Abraham”], in Общество любителей древней
письменности [The Society of Lovers of Ancient Literature] 99.2 (St. Petersburg: Markov, 1891);
Ivan Ja. Porfir’ev, “Откровение Авраама” [“The Apocalypse of Abraham”], in Апокрифические
сказания о ветхозаветных лицах и событиях по рукописям соловецкой библиотеки [The
Apocryphal Stories about Old Testament Characters and Events according to the Manuscripts of the
Solovetzkoj Library] (Sbornik Otdelenija russkogo jazyka i slovesnosti Imperatorskoj akademii nauk
17.1; St. Petersburg: The Russian Imperial Academy of Sciences, 1877) 111–30; Belkis PhilonenkoSayar and Marc Philonenko, L’Apocalypse d’Abraham. Introduction, texte slave, traduction et
notes (Semitica 31; Paris, 1981) 36–105; Alexander N. Pypin, Ложные и отреченные книги
славянской и русской старины. Памятники старинной русской литературы, издаваемые
графом Григорием Кушелевым-Безбородко [The False and Rejected Books of Slavonic and
Russian Antiquity: Memorials of Ancient Russian Literature] (ed. Count Gregory KushelevBezborodko; St. Petersburg: Kulesh, 1860–62) 3:24–36; Ryszard Rubinkiewicz, L’Apocalypse
d’Abraham en vieux slave. Édition critique du texte, introduction, traduction et commentaire
(Towarzystwo Naukowe Katolickiego Uniwersytetu Lubelskiego: Źródła i monografie 129; Lublin,
1987) 98–256; Izmail I. Sreznevskij, “Книги Откровения Авраама” [The Apocalypse of Abraham],

HTR 102:4 (2009) 439–51

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HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW

text revolves around the family business of manufacturing idols. Terah and his
sons are portrayed as craftsmen carving religious figures out of wood, stone, gold,
silver, brass, and iron. The zeal with which the family pursues its idolatrous craft
suggests that the text does not view the household of Terah as just another family
workshop producing religious artifacts for sale. Although the sacerdotal status
of Abraham’s family remains clouded in rather obscure imagery, the authors of
the Slavonic apocalypse seem to envision the members of Terah’s household as
cultic servants whose “house” serves as a metaphor for the sanctuary polluted by
idolatrous worship. From the very first lines of the apocalypse the reader learns
that Abraham and Terah are involved in sacrificial rituals in temples.2 The aggadic
section of the text, which narrates Terah’s and Abraham’s interactions with the
“statues,” culminates in the destruction of the “house” along with its idols in a
fire sent by God. It is possible that the Apocalypse of Abraham, which was written
in the first centuries of the Common Era,3 when Jewish communities were facing
a wide array of challenges including the loss of the Temple, is drawing here on
familiar metaphors derived from the Book of Ezekiel, which construes idolatry as
the main reason for the destruction of the terrestrial sanctuary. Like Ezekiel, the
in Известия Императорской академии наук по отделению русского языка и словесности
[Proceedings of the Imperial Academy of Sciences, Division of Russian Language and Literature]
(St. Petersburg: Russian Academy of Sciences, 1861–1863) 10:648–65; Nikolaj S. Tihonravov,
Памятники отреченной русской литературы [Memorials of Russian Apocryphal Literature] (2
vols.; St. Petersburg: Obschestvennaja Pol’za, 1863) 1:32–77. For translations of the Apoc. Ab., see
Nathanael Bonwetsch, Die Apokalypse Abrahams. Das Testament der vierzig Märtyrer (Studien zur
Geschichte der Theologie und der Kirche Bd. 1, Heft 1; Leipzig: Deichert, 1897); George Herbert
Box and J. I. Landsman, Apocalypse of Abraham (TED 1.10; London: Macmillan, 1918) 35–87;
Mario Enrietti and Paolo Sacchi, “Apocalisse di Abramo,” in Apocrifi dell’Antico Testamento (ed.
Paolo Sacchi et al.; 5 vols.; Turin: Unione tipografico-editrice torinese, 1981–1997) 3:61–110;
Alexander Kulik, Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha: Toward the Original of the Apocalypse
of Abraham (Atlanta: SBL, 2004) 9–35; A. Pennington, “Apocalypse of Abraham,” AOT 363–491;
Donka Petkanova, “Откровение на Авраам” [“The Apocalypse of Abraham”], in Старобългарска
Есхатология. Антология [Old Bulgarian Eschatology: Anthology] (ed. Donka Petkanova and
Anisava Miltenova; Slavia Orthodoxa; Sofia: Slavica, 1993) 17–30; Belkis Philonenko-Sayar and
Marc Philonenko, “Die Apokalypse Abrahams,” JSHRZ 5.5 (Gütersloh: Mohn, 1982) 413–60; Paul
Rießler, “Apokalypse des Abraham,” in Altjüdisches Schriftum außerhalb der Bibel (Freiberg: Kerle,
1928) 13–39, 1267–69; Ryszard Rubinkiewicz, “Apocalypse of Abraham,” OTP 1:681–705; idem,
“Apocalypsa Abrahama,” in Apokryfy Starego Testamentu (ed. R. Rubinkiewicz; Warsaw: Oficyna
Wydawnicza “Vocatio,” 1999) 460–81.
2
Apocalypse of Abraham 1:2–3: “. . . at the time when my lot came up, when I had finished
the services of my father Terah’s sacrifice to his gods of wood, stone, gold, silver, brass and iron,
I, Abraham, having entered their temple for the service . . .” (Kulik, Retroverting the Slavonic
Pseudepigrapha, 9).
3
On the date and provenance of Apoc. Ab., see Box and Landsman, The Apocalypse of Abraham,
xv–xix; Philonenko-Sayar and Philonenko, L’Apocalypse d’Abraham, 34–35; Rubinkiewicz,
“Apocalypse of Abraham,” 683; idem, L’Apocalypse d’Abraham en vieux slave, 70–73; Alexander
Kulik, “К датировке ‘Откровения Авраама’ ” [“About the Date of the Apocalypse of Abraham”],
In Memoriam of Ja. S. Lur’e (eds. N. M. Botvinnik and Je. I. Vaneeva; St. Petersburg, 1997) 189–95;
idem, Retroverting the Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 2–3.

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hero of the Slavonic apocalypse is allowed to behold the true place of worship, the
heavenly shrine associated with the divine throne. Yet despite the fact that the Book
of Ezekiel plays a significant role in shaping the Abrahamic pseudepigraphon,4
there is a curious difference between the two visionary accounts. While in Ezekiel
the false idols of the perished temple are contrasted with the true form of the deity
enthroned on the divine chariot, the Apocalypse of Abraham denies its hero a vision
of the anthropomorphic Glory of God. When in the second part of the apocalypse
Abraham travels to the upper heaven to behold the throne of God, evoking the classic
Ezekielian description, he does not see any divine form on the chariot. Scholars have
noted that while they preserve some features of Ezekiel’s angelology, the authors
of the Slavonic apocalypse appear to be carefully avoiding the anthropomorphic
description of the divine Kavod, substituting references to the divine Voice.5 The
common interpretation is that the Apocalypse of Abraham deliberately seeks “to
exclude all reference to the human figure mentioned in Ezekiel 1.”6
In view of this polemical stance against the anthropomorphic understanding of
God in the second part of the Apocalypse of Abraham, it is possible that the first
part of the pseudepigraphon, which is imbued with imagery of idolatrous figures,
might also contain a polemic against the divine body traditions.7 This article
will explore the possible anti-anthropomorphic tendencies in the first part of the
Slavonic apocalypse.

4
Scholars have noted that the seer’s vision of the divine throne found in the Apocalypse of
Abraham “draws heavily on Ezekiel and stands directly in the tradition of Merkabah speculation.”
John Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction to Jewish Apocalyptic Literature (2d ed.;
Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1998) 183. See also Ithmar Gruenwald, Apocalyptic and Merkavah
Mysticism (AGAJU 14; Leiden: Brill, 1980) 55–57; Christopher Rowland, The Open Heaven: A
Study of Apocalyptic in Judaism and Early Christianity (New York: Crossroad, 1982) 86–87.
5
Such polemical development, which attempts to confront the anthropomorphic understanding
of the Deity by replacing it with the imagery of the divine Voice or Name, has its roots in the Bible,
particularly in the Book of Deuteronomy and later deuteronomistic writings. On these traditions,
see Oskar Grether, Name und Wort Gottes im Alten Testament (BZAW 64; Giessen: Toepelmann,
1934) 1–58; Moshe Weinfeld, Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School (Oxford: Clarendon,
1972) 191–201; Tryggve N. D. Mettinger, The Dethronement of Sabaoth: Studies in the Shem
and Kabod Theologies (Coniectanea Biblica. Old Testament Series 18; Lund: Wallin & Dalholm,
1982) 124–29; Ian Wilson, Out of the Midst of Fire: Divine Presence in Deuteronomy (SBLDS
151; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1995) 1–15; Charles A. Gieschen, Angelomorphic Christology:
Antecedents and Early Evidence (AGAJU 42; Leiden: Brill, 1998) 51–123. On the formative role
of the Deuteronomic tradition for the theophanic imagery of the Apocalypse of Abraham, see Andrei
Orlov, “Praxis of the Voice: The Divine Name Traditions in the Apocalypse of Abraham,” JBL 127
(2008) 53–70, at 58–60.
6
Rowland, The Open Heaven, 87.
7
For a discussion of the divine body traditions in biblical, pseudepigraphic, and rabbinic materials
see Andrei Orlov, The Enoch-Metatron Tradition (TSAJ 107; Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 2005)
143–46, 211–52; idem, “ ‘Without Measure and Without Analogy’: The Tradition of the Divine Body
in 2 (Slavonic) Enoch,” in From Apocalypticism to Merkabah Mysticism: Studies in the Slavonic
Pseudepigrapha (ed. Andrei Orlov; JSJSupp. 114; Leiden: Brill, 2007) 149–74.

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■ Bar-Eshath, the Wooden Idol
The introductory chapters of the Apocalypse of Abraham entertain the reader
with elaborate mocking portrayals of the idols produced in the household of
Terah. Often, the main purpose of these narrations is to demonstrate the limited
supernatural prowess of the anthropomorphic figures, whose spiritual impotence is
then contrasted with the power of the incorporeal God. It is possible that in these
mocking accounts of the idols found in the first eight chapters of the Apocalypse
of Abraham the reader encounters one of the more vivid testimonies to the work’s
overall retraction of the anthropomorphic understanding of the Deity. Possibly
mindful of the broader extra-biblical context of Abraham’s biblical biography and
his role as a fighter against the idolatrous practices of his father Terah, the work’s
authors seem to be using the patriarch’s story to advance their own anticorporeal
agenda.8
The limited scope of this investigation does not allow us to explore all
depictions of the idolatrous figures found in the first part of the pseudepigraphon.
This study will investigate only one polemical portrayal: the account involving
the wooden idol Bar-Eshath (Slav. Варисать).9 This mysterious idol first appears
in chapter five, where Abraham is sent by his father to gather wooden chips left
from manufacturing idols in order to make fire and prepare a meal. In the pile of
wooden splinters Abraham finds a small figurine whose forehead is decorated
with the name Bar-Eshath.10 Skeptical of idols, Abraham decides to challenge
their supernatural power by placing Bar-Eshath near fire and, with irony, ordering
him to confine the flames.11 The challenge leads to disastrous consequences for
the wooden figurine, whom Abraham observes turn into a pile of dust after being
enveloped and toppled over by fire.
The story of the fiery challenge of the wooden idol appears to fit nicely into the
overall anti-anthropomorphic argument of the text. It polemically evokes two pivotal
biblical theophanic accounts associated with the divine body ideology—Ezekiel 1
and Daniel 3—that contain depictions of divine beings in the midst of fire. Although
the purpose of these two biblical accounts is to highlight the distinction between
true and false representations of the Deity by depicting the authentic form enduring
fire, in the Slavonic apocalypse the argument takes a different turn. Here, it is not
a fiery divine form but its incorporeal manifestation—the divine Voice appearing
in the midst of fire12—that is contrasted with the anthropomorphic idolatrous
8
For the background of the story of Abraham as a fighter with idols in the Book of Jubilees and
later rabbinic materials (Gen. Rab. 38:13, Tanna debe Eliahu 2:25, S. Eli. Rab. 33), see Box and
Landsman, The Apocalypse of Abraham, 88–94; Rubinkiewicz, L’Apocalypse d’Abraham, 43–49.
9
On Bar-Eshath and the background of this name, see Kulik, Retroverting the Slavonic
Pseudepigrapha, 63.
10
Ibid., 12.
11
Ibid., 12–13.
12
On hypostatic voice of God, see James H. Charlesworth, “The Jewish Roots of Christology:
The Discovery of the Hypostatic Voice,” SJT 39 (1986) 19–41.

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figure that perishes in the flames. I have previously explored this aspect of BarEshath’s narrative, arguing that it represents a polemical variation on the divine
body traditions.13 In this study I will continue to probe polemical features of the
Bar-Eshath account by focusing on the symbolic dimension of the story in chapter
six of the Slavonic apocalypse. There, the story of the “fall” of the wooden idol is
poetically retold, this time in mythological language reminiscent of Ezekiel and
Daniel, two biblical writings in which the ideology of the divine body reaches its
most emphatic, developed articulation.

■ The Biblical Background of the Tale of the Fallen Tree
The Apocalypse of Abraham 6:10–17 offers the following poetic tale about the
origin and the final destiny of the wooden statue, conveyed through primordial
mythological imagery:
But Bar-Eshath, <your god, before he was made had been rooted in the
ground. Being great and wondrous (великъ сы и дивен), with branches, flowers, and [various] beauties (похвалами). And you cut him with an ax, and by
your skill the god was made. And behold, he has dried up, and his sap (тукота его) is gone. He fell from the heights to the ground, and he went from
greatness to insignificance, and his appearance has faded.> [Now] he himself
has been burned up by the fire, and he turned into ashes and is not more.14

This description of the wondrous tree found in the Slavonic apocalypse appears
to draw on the arboreal metaphors in Ezekiel 31 and Daniel 4. It is no accident
that the authors of the Slavonic apocalypse bring these two theophanic accounts
into play.15 Several studies have observed that these two biblical texts, permeated
with corporeal ideology, exercise a formative influence on the theophanic and
angelological imagery found in various parts of the Apocalypse of Abraham. To
better understand their appropriation in the Slavonic account, we must explore the
ideological background of the arboreal portrayals in Ezekiel and Daniel.
As noted above, the Apocalypse of Abraham draws on a cluster of motifs from
the Book of Ezekiel, while at the same time reshaping them by eliminating their
anthropomorphic details.16 The authors’ peculiar use of the Ezekielian chariot
13
See Andrei Orlov, “ ‘The Gods of My Father Terah’: Abraham the Iconoclast and the Polemics
with the Divine Body Traditions in the Apocalypse of Abraham,” JSP 18 (2008) 33–53.
14
Philonenko-Sayar and Philonenko, L’Apocalypse d’Abraham, 48; Kulik, Retroverting Slavonic
Pseudepigrapha, 14. In Alexander Kulik’s English translation of the Apocalypse of Abraham the elements
of the text which do not occur in the version of the Sylvester Codex (MS S) are enclosed.
15
Kulik (Retroverting the Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 72) also points out the text’s similarity to
Isa 44:14–20.
16
On the author’s use of the Ezekielian traditions, see Rubinkiewicz, “Apocalypse of Abraham,”
1.685. In his monograph, L’Apocalypse d’Abraham en vieux slave, Rubinkiewicz provides a helpful
outline of the usage of Ezekielian traditions in Apoc. Ab. He notes that “among the prophetic books,
the book of Ezekiel plays for our author the same role as Genesis in the Pentateuch. The vision
of the divine throne (Apoc. Ab. 18) is inspired by Ezekiel 1 and 10. Abraham sees the four living

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imagery in Abraham’s vision of the upper heaven has been investigated in detail in
previous studies.17 Although the anthropomorphic thrust of Ezekiel understandably
comes to the fore in the account of the vision of the divine chariot where the
seer beholds the human-like Kavod, other parts of the book also contain implicit
or explicit affirmations of the corporeal ideology of the priestly tradition. It is
noteworthy for our investigation that the corporeal ideology of both Ezekiel and
the Priestly source is shaped by the tenets of the Adamic tradition and its technical
terminology.18 One example of this corporeal development involving Adamic
imagery may be found in Ezekiel 31, which features a portrayal of a wondrous
tree that first flourishes in the Garden of God and is then doomed by the Deity and
destroyed by foreigners.
Like any profound religious symbol, this arboreal metaphor can be understood
in a number of ways. The passage has often been interpreted as a reference to
the destruction of nations or their arrogant rulers. There is, however, another
interpretation that recalls the story of Adam. The peculiar reference to the location
of the wondrous tree in the Garden of Eden (ÚH?) and its expulsion from this
distinguished topos exhibits parallels to the story of the Protoplast, who once
also enjoyed an exalted status in the Garden but was then expelled by the Deity
from his heavenly abode. Like the mysterious trees in the Ezekielian and Danielic
accounts, the protoplast, too, was once of enormous stature. Several passages in
Philo and some pseudepigraphical accounts, including the tradition that appears in
Apoc. Ab. 23:4–6, describe Adam’s body as great in height, terrible in breadth, and
incomparable in aspect.19 Moreover some Jewish traditions hint to the radiant nature
creatures (Apoc. Ab. 18:5–11) depicted in Ezek 1 and 10. He also sees the wheels of fire decorated
with eyes all around (Apoc. Ab. 18:3), the throne (Apoc. Ab. 18:3; Ezek 1:26), the chariot (Apoc.
Ab. 18:12 and Ezek 10:6); he hears the voice of God (Apoc. Ab. 19:1 and Ezek 1:28). When the
cloud of fire raises up, he can hear ‘the voice like the roaring sea’ (Apoc. Ab. 18:1; Ezek 1:24).
There is no doubt that the author of the Apocalypse of Abraham takes the texts of Ezekiel 1 and
10 as sources of inspiration.”
17
Christopher Rowland, “The Vision of God in Apocalyptic Literature,” JSJ 10 (1979) 137–54;
idem, The Open Heaven, 86–87; Orlov, “Praxis of the Voice,” 53–70; idem, “The Pteromorphic
Angelology of the Apocalypse of Abraham,” CBQ 71 (2009) 830–42.
18
In recent years scholars have become increasingly aware of the formative value of the Adamic
traditions in the shaping of ideologies about the anthropomorphic body of the Deity. Already in the
Book of Ezekiel the imagery of the human-like Kavod is connected to the protological developments
reflected in the Genesis account where humanity is said to be created in the image of God.
19
Several early Jewish sources attest to the lore about the enormous body that Adam possessed
before his transgression in Eden. Thus, Philo in QG 1.32 mentions a tradition according to which the
first humans received at their creation bodies of vast size reaching a gigantic height: “. . . [the first
humans] . . . were provided with a very great body and the magnitude of a giant. . . .” (Philo, Questions
and Answers on Genesis [trans. R. Marcus; Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1949] 19).
Moreover, in some pseudepigraphic accounts Adam’s body is portrayed, not simply as gigantic, but
even as comparable to the dimensions of the divine body. Thus, in several pseudepigraphic materials
the depictions of Adam’s stature are linked to the imagery of the enthroned divine anthropomorphic
manifestation known from the Priestly and Ezekielian sources as God’s Kavod.

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of Adam’s gigantic body. This great body is also said to be luminous and clothed
with what is often described in Jewish traditions as the “garment of glory.”20
Yet according to the Adamic traditions, the condition of the protoplast’s body
changed dramatically after the fall, when he lost his great beauty, stature, and
luminosity. In view of these parallels to the Adamic developments, it has been
proposed that Ezekiel 31 and Daniel 4 may be symbolic renditions of the story of
the first human, where the metaphor of the fallen tree forewarns the demise of the
original condition of humanity.21
The use of the Adam story as a metaphor for the fall of the exalted “divine
humanity” is of paramount significance in the conceptual framework of the corporeal
ideologies found in the Book of Ezekiel and the Book of Daniel. Previous studies
have noted that the divine body traditions often juxtapose dialectically the exaltation
and demotion of the mediatorial figures to the end of both promoting and delimiting
the divinization of humanity.22 The demise of the wondrous trees thus appears to fit
well into this dialectical interplay of reaffirmations and deconstructions of various
corporeal ideologies.23
20
The pseudepigraphic and rabbinic sources also refer to the luminosity of the original human’s
body, which, like the divine body, emitted light. Thus, the Targums attest to the prelapsarian
luminosity of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The biblical background for these traditions
includes Gen 3:21, in which “the Lord God made for Adam and his wife garments of skin and
clothed them.” The Targumic traditions, both Palestinian and Babylonian, read “garments of glory”
instead of “garments of skin.” For example, in Targum Pseudo-Jonathan on Gen 3:21 the following
tradition can be found: “And the Lord God made garments of glory for Adam and for his wife from
the skin which the serpent had cast off (to be worn) on the skin of their (garments of) fingernails
of which they had been stripped, and he clothed them” (Targum Pseudo-Jonathan: Genesis [trans.
Michael Maher, M.S.C.; The Aramaic Bible, 1B; Collegeville, 1992] 29). Targum Neofiti on Gen
3:21 unveils a similar tradition: “And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of
glory, for the skin of their flesh, and he clothed them” (Targum Neofiti 1: Genesis [trans. Martin
McNamara, M.S.C.; The Aramaic Bible 1A; Collegeville, Minn., 1992] 62–63; Alejandro Díez
Macho, Neophiti 1: Targum Palestinense MS de la Biblioteca Vaticana [Madrid: Consejo Superior
de Investigaciones Científicas, 1968] 1.19). The Fragmentary Targum on Gen 3:21 also uses the
imagery of glorious garments: “And He made: And the memra of the Lord God created for Adam
and his wife precious garments [for] the skin of their flesh, and He clothed them” (Michael I.
Klein, The Fragment-Targums of the Pentateuch according to Their Extant Sources [2 vols.; AB 76;
Rome, 1980] 1.46, 2.7). Targum Onqelos on Gen 3:21 reads: “And the Lord God made for Adam
and his wife garments of honor for the skin of their flesh, and He clothed them” (Targum Onqelos
to Genesis [trans. Bernard Grossfeld; The Aramaic Bible 6; Wilmington, Del.: Glazier, 1988] 46;
The Bible in Aramaic Based on Old Manuscripts and Printed Texts [ed. Alexander Sperber; Leiden:
Brill, 1959] 1.5).
21
See, for example, Chrispin Fletcher-Louis, All the Glory of Adam: Liturgical Anthropology in
the Dead Sea Scrolls (STDJ 42; Leiden: Brill, 2002) 101–3; Silviu N. Bunta, “The Mēsu-Tree and
the Animal Inside: Theomorphism and Theriomorphism in Daniel 4,” in The Theophaneia School:
Jewish Roots of Eastern Christian Mysticism (ed. Basil Lourié and Andrei Orlov; Scrinium 3; St.
Petersburg: Byzantinorossica, 2007) 364–84.
22
Daphna Arbel, “ ‘Seal of Resemblance, Full of Wisdom, and Perfect in Beauty’: The Enoch/
Metatron Narrative of 3 Enoch and Ezekiel 28,” HTR 98 (2005) 121–42.
23
Another example of such dialectical interplay of reaffirmation and demotion can be found
in Ezek 28:1–19, a symbolic depiction of judgment against the prince of Tyre. This account also

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These conceptual developments involving the symbolism of the wondrous trees
in Ezekiel 31 and Daniel 4 bring us back to the arboreal imagery in Apoc. Ab. 6:10–
11. In this passage, the authors seem to evoke cautiously the aforementioned biblical
accounts when Bar-Eshath is compared to the wondrous tree. All three accounts
emphasize the beauty of the protological tree, and in all three stories the tree faces
eventual demise, which is depicted as a fall from heights to the ground.24
In highlighting the similarities between the biblical and pseudepigraphic accounts
of the great tree, it is also important to note the distinct purposes that arboreal
imagery serves in Ezekiel and Daniel on one hand and the Apocalypse of Abraham
on the other. While the imagery of the fallen tree in Ezekiel and Daniel is employed
to advance the ideology of divine corporeality, in the Slavonic apocalypse it is
unambiguously set against traditions of divine corporeality. One peculiar detail
illuminates this ideological difference. While in the biblical stories the symbolic
arboreal stature of exalted humanity is diminished by the will of the Creator25 and
appears to be informed by the Adamic traditions. As will be shown later, Ezek 28 also contributes
to the background for the imagery found in the Apoc. Ab. since in both texts the idolatrous statues
are destroyed by fire.
24
The concept of the cosmic tree as the building material for the divine figure found in the
arboreal hymn of Apoc. Ab. appears to be reminiscent not only of the descriptions in Ezek 31 and
Dan 4 but also some Mesopotamian traditions about the cosmic tree also known as the Mēsu-Tree.
Scholars have noted that the tradition about the wondrous tree reflected in Ezek 31 seems to draw
on Mesopotamian traditions about the Mēsu-Tree, a cosmic plant envisioned as the building material
for the divine statues. The traditions about the mythological tree are documented in several sources,
including the Book of Erra, a Mesopotamian work dated between the eleventh and eighth centuries
B.C.E. The Book of Erra 1:150–56 reads:
“Where is the mēsu tree, the flesh of the gods, the ornament of the king of the
uni[verse]?
That pure tree, that august youngster suited to supremacy,
Whose roots reached as deep down as the bottom of the underwor[ld]: a hundred double
hours through the vast sea waters;
Whose top reached as high as the sky of [Anum]?
Where is the glittering zaginduru stone . . .
Where is Ninildu, the great woodcarver of my godhead,
Who carries the golden axe, who knows his own. . . .” (L. Cagni, The Poem of Erra
[SANE 1/3; Malibu: Undena, 1977] 32).
This passage vividly demonstrates that the Mesopotamian “matrix” of traditions about the
gigantic cosmic tree as the building material for the divine statues is reflected not only in
Ezekiel, but also in the Slavonic apocalypse, where the “flesh” of the cosmic tree serves as the
building material for the idolatrous statue of Bar-Eshath. Strikingly, the accounts of the cosmic
tree in Apoc. Ab. and the passage in the Book of Erra share several features, including the motif
of a craftsman carving the wooden statues of a godhead with his axe. On the Mesopotamian
traditions about the Mēsu-Tree and their connection to Ezek 31 and Dan 4, see Bunta, “The
Mēsu-Tree and the Animal Inside.”
25
The motif of the Deity demoting or diminishing the original gigantic stature of the first human
is a dialectical device of reaffirmation widespread in the pseudepigraphic and rabbinic materials
associated with the divine body traditions. See Jarl Fossum, “The Adorable Adam of the Mystics and

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both of the biblical trees are cut by celestial beings—in Ezekiel by God and in Daniel
by the heavenly envoy—in the Apocalypse of Abraham the tree is cut down not by
the Deity but by Abraham’s idolatrous father Terah, who throughout the narrative
is portrayed as a “creator” of his idols in a manner ironically reminiscent of God’s
role in the biblical account of creation.26 In Apoc. Ab. 4:3, Abraham tells Terah
that he is a god to his idols since he made them. Here again, as in the accounts in
Ezekiel and Daniel, the subtle presence of Adamic motifs can be discerned. Yet,
unlike the prophetic books in which the Adamic currents reaffirm the possibility
of a human-like body of the Deity who fashions his beloved creature in his own
image, in the Slavonic apocalypse these currents run against such a possibility.

■ The Demoted Cherub
The arboreal hymn of the demise of Bar-Eshath in Apoc. Ab. 6:10–17, which
defines him as a god, brings us to another important passage: Ezek 28:1–19. This
latter passage contains two oracles about an enigmatic celestial figure, an anointed
cherub (NZQQF[VO) whom the text identifies as the prince of Tyre and who, like
Bar-Eshath, appears to be envisioned as a demoted idol.
It is noteworthy that, like the wooden idol, the main character of this Ezekielian
passage is also repeatedly described in ironic fashion as a god. Further, it is
intriguing that both the hymn in the Slavonic apocalypse and the account in Ezekiel
28 describe the “idols” as wondrous creatures decorated with “beauties.” Although
the Slavonic text does not elaborate on the nature of Bar-Eshath’s “beauties” (Slav.
похвалы),27 the passage in Ezekiel describes the cherub as “the model of perfection”
(X]ROX˜X[N), “perfect in beauty” (]T]P]PO), and decorated with precious stones.
It appears that in both accounts references to the characters’ “beauties” indicate
their exalted status.28 Scholars have observed that the attribution of “beauties” to
the cherub evokes another important “representation” of the Deity: the supreme
angel Metatron, who according to the Sefer Hekhalot was also “enhanced” with
various “beauties” in the form of precious stones.29 In this context the reference to
the protagonist of the Merkabah tradition does not seem out of place, given that he
himself might also be viewed as a conceptual nexus reflecting the dynamics of both
the exaltation and the demotion of humanity. In this capacity he can be envisioned
as a sort of “idol” who serves as a stumbling block for the infamous visionary of
the Rebuttals of the Rabbis,” in Geschichte-Tradition-Reflexion. Festschrift für Martin Hengel zum
70. Geburtstag (ed. Hubert Cancik, Hermann Lichtenberger, and Peter Schäfer; 3 vols.; Tübingen:
Mohr, 1996) 1:529–30.
26
Thus, for example, Apoc. Ab. 6.2 relates Terah’s “creation” of the bodies of the idols.
27
This Slavonic word can be literally translated as “praises.” For a discussion of the translation of
Slavonic “похвала” as “beauty,” see Kulik, Retroverting the Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 73 n. 6.
28
Thus, Daphna Arbel observes that “the bejeweled garb covered with precious stones that
adorns the primal figure further highlights his state of exaltation.” Arbel, “ ‘Seal of Resemblance,
Full of Wisdom, and Perfect in Beauty,’ ” 131.
29
Ibid.

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the Talmud, Elisha b. Abuyah, who, according to b. Hag. 15a, takes Metatron to
be the second deity in heaven, leading him to the heretical conclusion that there
are two heavenly “powers.” The passage in Hagigah next depicts the demotion of
the dangerous “idol.” The supreme angel is publicly punished in front of celestial
hosts with sixty fiery lashes in order to prevent future confusion between the Deity
and his angelic replica.
Returning to the similarities between the stories of the anointed cherub and BarEshath, it should be noted that both seem to contain traces of corporeal ideologies
in their symbolic rendering of the story of Adam’s exaltation and fall.30 Thus in
Ezekiel the cherub, like Bar-Eshath, falls from “the heights to the ground,” being
cast out as a profane thing from the mountain of God.
It is noteworthy that both texts, like the Adamic traditions, appear to envision the
process of demotion as the loss of the original condition of the characters. Ezekiel
28 hints that the cherub was originally installed like the divine Kavod on the holy
mountain in the midst of the fire: “You were on the holy mountain of God; in the
midst of the stones of fire (ZE]RFE) you walked.” The story continues with the
exalted figure being expelled from the exalted topos by its guardians: “I cast you
as a profane thing from the mountain of God (˜]LPEVLQ), and the guardian cherub
drove you out from the midst of the stones of fire.” According to the text, when the
cherub was expelled from his original lofty abode he was “cast to the ground” and
“exposed” before spectators. In light of the possible Adamic background of the
Ezekielian oracles, demotion to the lower realm and exposure to the gazing public
can be understood as references to the protoplast’s loss of his original luminous
garment after the fall. A similar tradition about the loss of the first human’s shining
attire seems to be present in the Slavonic apocalypse, which describes the “fall”
of Bar-Eshath as the “fading” of his primordial condition. Apocalypse of Abraham
6:14–15 reads: “He fell from the heights to the ground, and he went from greatness
to insignificance, and his appearance has faded. . . .”31
It is also intriguing that in both stories the characters share the same final destiny:
their “bodies” turn into ashes by fire. As others have noted, in Ezekiel the demoted
30
On the Adamic background of Ezek 28 see James Barr, “ ‘Thou art the Cherub’: Ezek 28.14
and the Postexilic Understanding of Genesis 2–3,” in Priests, Prophets and Scribes: Essays on the
Formation and Heritage of Second Temple Judaism in Honour of Joseph Blenkinsopp (ed. Eugene
Ulrich et al.; JSOTSupp. 149; Sheffield, England: JSOT Press, 1992) 213–23; Norman C. Habel,
“Ezekiel 28 and the Fall of the First Man,” Concordia Theological Monthly 38 (1967) 516–24;
Knud Jeppesen, “You are a Cherub, but no God!” SJOT 1 (1991) 83–94; Dale Launderville, O.S.B.,
“Ezekiel’s Cherub: A Promising Symbol or a Dangerous Idol?” CBQ 65 (2004) 165–83; Oswald
Loretz, “Der Sturz des Fürsten von Tyrus (Ezek 28:1–19),” UF 8 (1976) 455–58; Herbert G. May,
“The King in the Garden of Eden: A Study of Ezekiel 28:12–19,” in Israel’s Prophetic Heritage:
Essays in Honor of James Muilenburg (eds. Bernhard Anderson and Walter Harrelson; New York:
Harper, 1962) 166–76; James E. Miller, “The Maelaek of Tyre (Ezekiel 28: 11–19),” ZAW 105 (1994)
497–501; Anthony J. Williams, “The Mythological Background of Ezekiel 28:12–19?” BTB 6 (1976)
49–61; Kalman Yaron, “The Dirge over the King of Tyre,” ASTI 3 (1964) 28–57.
31
Kulik, Retroverting the Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 14.

ANDREI ORLOV

449

cherub is clearly envisioned as an idolatrous statue destroyed by fire. It has further
been noted that the “cremation of the king of Tyre resembles the burning of a statue
and the scattering of its ashes on the ground or in the underworld. If the king of
Tyre is identified as a cherub, represented as a statue, and punished for claiming
to be a god, then the burning of this statue can be seen as the rite of disposal of
the impurity of idolatry.”32
The divine body traditions, and especially their peculiar use of the fire test in
the adjudication between true and false representations of the Deity, appear to be
present in both the Apocalypse of Abraham and the Ezekielian oracles, since the
anointed cherub is first depicted as passing the fiery test (“in the midst of the stones
of fire you walked”) and then failing it (“I brought forth fire from the midst of you;
it consumed you, and I turned you to ashes”).

■ The Divine Face
There is no doubt that the symbolism of various Adamic currents permeates the
story of Bar-Eshath. In this respect it is especially interesting to examine the
aforementioned passage from Apocalypse of Abraham 6, where some peculiar
details accompany the fall of the wooden idol. The text relates that Bar-Eshath fell
from the heights to the ground and that his condition was changed from greatness to
smallness (оть велiиства прiиде в малость).33 Although in the course of narration
the wooden statue literally falls to the ground, it appears that the reference to the
idol’s fall has an additional symbolic dimension, reminiscent of the story of the
protoplast. The “Adamic” aspect of the terminology in Apoc. Ab. 6:15 can be
further clarified by comparing the vocabulary of this passage to the terminology
found in another central pseudepigraphical account that survived in the Slavonic
language, 2 (Slavonic) Apocalypse of Enoch. In 2 Enoch, the two conditions of
Adam’s corporeality—one before the fall and the other after—are also conveyed
through the terminology of greatness and smallness.
In the longer recension of 2 Enoch 30:10, the Lord reveals to the seventh
antediluvian hero the mystery of the two conditions or “natures” of Adam, one
original and the other fallen. It is striking that these conditions are rendered in the
text through the familiar formulae of “greatness and smallness”:
From invisible and visible substances I created man.
From both his natures come both death and life.
And [as my image] he knows the word like [no] other creature.
But even at his greatest he is small,
and again at his smallest he is great.34

32

Launderville, “Ezekiel’s Cherub,” 173–74.
Rubinkiewicz, L’Apocalypse d’Abraham, 116 [translation mine, from Slavonic text].
34
Francis Andersen, “2 (Slavonic Apocalypse of) Enoch,” Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (ed.
James H. Charlesworth; 2 vols.; New York: Doubleday, 1983–1985) 1:152.
33

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Both recensions of the Slavonic text further invoke this terminology in 2 Enoch
44:1: “the Lord with his own two hands created mankind; in a facsimile of his own
face, both small and great (мала и велика),35 the Lord created [them].”36
It is intriguing that both the Apocalypse of Abraham and 2 Enoch use in
their description of Bar-Eshath and Adam identical Slavonic terminology which
unambiguously points to the Adamic “flavor” of the story of the wooden idol. The
description of the fall of Bar-Eshath as a transition “from greatness to smallness”
in Apoc. Ab. 6:14 further reinforces this connection with Adamic developments,
given that it recalls the tradition about the diminution of Adam’s stature after his
transgression in Eden in 2 Enoch.37
Apocalypse of Abraham 6:15 depicts Bar-Eshath as the one whose “face”
(Slav. лицо) has faded: “He fell from the heights to the ground, and he went from
greatness to insignificance, and the appearance of his face (взор лица его)38 has
faded.”39 The notion of Bar-Eshath’s fading face is striking in that it again evokes
conceptual developments found in 2 Enoch, which uses imagery of divine and
human “faces” pervasively and views face not simply as a part of the human or
divine body but as a reference to the corporeality of the entire being. The “fading
of the face” in this context seems related to the adverse fate of the original body
of the first human(s), which literally “faded” when their luminosity was lost as a
result of the transgression in Eden. These terminological affinities demonstrate
that the authors of the Apocalypse of Abraham were cognizant of the divine Face
terminology and its prominent role in the divine body traditions.

■ Conclusion
In conclusion of this study it should be noted that investigation into Bar-Eshath’s
story can help clarify not only the broader ideological context of the anti-corporeal
polemical currents found in the Slavonic apocalypse but also the textual issues
pertaining to the provisional status of the passage containing the arboreal tale. Since
this passage is absent from one of the important manuscripts of the Apocalypse of
Abraham, the so-called the Silvester Codex, it has often been considered a later
35
Matvej I. Sokolov, “Materialy i zametki po starinnoj slavjanskoj literature. Vypusk tretij. VII.
Slavjanskaja Kniga Enoha Pravednogo. Teksty, latinskij perevod i izsledovanie. Posmertnyj trud
avtora prigotovil k izdaniju M. Speranskij,” Chtenija v Obshchestve Istorii i Drevnostej Rossijskih
4 (1910) 1.44, 96. [Matvej I. Sokolov, “Materials and Notes about Ancient Slavonic Literature.
3.VII. Slavonic Book of Enoch the Righteous. Texts, Latin Translation and Study. A Posthumous
Edition Prepared by M. Speranskij,” Proceedings of the Society of Russian History and Antiquities
4 (1910) 1.44, 96.]
36
Andersen, “2 Enoch,” 1.170.
37
See 2 Enoch 30:10.
38
Kulik traces this Slavonic expression to the Hebrew expression []RT X[QH (Retroverting the
Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, 14 n. 30; 72–73).
39
Rubinkiewicz, L’Apocalypse d’Abraham, 116; Philonenko-Sayar and Philonenko, L’Apocalypse
d’Abraham, 48.

ANDREI ORLOV

451

interpolation.40 In this context the establishment of the relationship between the
passage and the broader theological framework of the Slavonic apocalypse is
important. Our study demonstrates that the passage is consistent with the original
theological argument of the work. This research therefore offers additional evidence
that the story of the demoted tree is not an interpolation but may rather belong to
the original core of the text, as it shares its anti-anthropomorphic polemics and is
consonant with its overall ideological agenda.

40
For example, Box and Landsman consider it “a later interpolation” (Apocalypse of Abraham,
41 n. 5). B. Philonenko-Sayar and M. Philonenko include the passage with the arboreal tale only
in the footnotes of their critical edition of the text (L’Apocalypse d’Abraham, 48).

Augustine’s Mixed Feelings: Vergil’s
Aeneid and the Psalms of David in the
Confessions*
Michael C. McCarthy
Santa Clara University

■ Intertextual Tension
The Aeneid of Vergil and the Psalter traditionally attributed to David so influenced
Augustine’s writing that one scholar has called the Confessions “a recapitulation
of Vergilian epic in a Christian universe,” and another has described it as an
“amplified Psalter.”1 Since both works permeate Augustine’s narrative, classicists
and theologians have long studied the place of the Aeneid and the Psalms in the
Confessions, but never in relation to each other.2 Consequently, the dialogical quality
*

The author wishes to thank the Franzia Family Fund at Santa Clara University for support in
the completion of this article.
1
Andrew Fichter, Poets Historical: Dynastic Epic in the Renaissance (New Haven: Yale
University Press, 1982) 40; H. Lausberg, “Rezension zu George Nicolaus Knauer, Psalmenzitate,”
ThR 53 (1957) 16.
2
On Vergil, for instance, in addition to Fichter (n. 1), see John J. O’Meara, “Augustine the Artist
and the Aeneid,” in Mélanges offerts à Mademoiselle Christine Mohrmann (Utrecht: Spectrum, 1963)
252–61. Harald Hagendahl, Augustine and the Latin Classics (Göteborg: Göteborgs Universitet,
1967) 1.316–77, 2.384–463. Wolfgang Hübner, “Die praetoria memoriae im zehnten Buch der
Confessiones: Vergilisches bei Augustin,” Revue des Études Augustiniennes 27 (1981) 245–63.
Pierre Courcelle, Lecteurs païens et lecteurs chrétiens de l’Énéide. I. Les témoignages littéraires
(Paris, 1984). Camille Bennett, “The Conversion of Vergil: The Aeneid in Augustine’s Confessions,”
Revue des Études Augustiniennes 34 (1988) 47–69. Sabine MacCormack, The Shadows of Poetry:
Vergil in the Mind of Augustine (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998). On the Psalms,
Georg Nicolaus Knauer, Psalmenzitate in Augustins Konfessionen (Göttingen: Vandenhoek &
Ruprecht, 1955). Hermann-Josef Sieben, “Der Psalter und die Bekehrung der Voces und Affectus.
Zu Augustinus, Confessiones IX, 4.6 und X, 33,” Theologie und Philosophie 52 (1977) 481–97.
John Sylvester-Johnson, “The Psalms in the ‘Confessions’ of Augustine” (Ph.D. diss., Southern
Baptist Theological Seminary, 1981). Paul Burns, “Augustine’s Distinctive Use of the Psalms in
the Confessions: The Role of Music and Recitation,” Augustinian Studies 24 (1993) 133–46. Günter
HTR 102:4 (2009) 453–79

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of Augustine’s text, which includes these radically divergent voices, has largely
gone without comment. As paradigms of classical and biblical literature, however,
the Aeneid and the Psalms contribute to the formation of the author’s own voice
and affections. Ancient readers, for instance, widely recognized Vergil’s epic as the
work of the summus poeta, a book with prophetic powers and the crown of Roman
literature to be emulated by all Latin writers.3 Early Christians, in turn, regarded
the Psalter as the fabric of constant prayer, a kind of compendium of all scripture
pointing prophetically to Christ.4 Thus, the Confessions represent a struggle among
powerful voices and emotions frequently operating at cross purposes.
Although in the last half-century interest in the Confessions’ artistic design
has repeatedly turned to Augustine’s use of literary sources, new perspectives
have complicated the issue of authorship.5 Recognition of the intertextual quality
of all writing has shifted scholarly focus from an author’s originality to a text’s
embeddedness within antecedent traditions. Thus, to regard the Confessions as
a recapitulation of the Aeneid or an amplified Psalter is to make a claim that far
exceeds traditional understandings of Augustine’s literary selection. The Confessions
can now be seen as thoroughly interwoven with previous textual systems that even
oppose each other. Literary studies in the last few decades have insisted that all texts
absorb and transform previous discourses, yet not necessarily in a way that resolves
tensions.6 If the Confessions include a mosaic of both conscious and unconscious
allusions to the Aeneid and the Psalms, the result epitomizes the clash Augustine
felt between a culture dominated by the ancient classics and a new one formed by
scripture.7 What Daniel Boyarin notes about conflicts represented in the intertextual
Bader, Psalterium affectuum palaestra. Prolegomena zu einer Theologie des Psalters (Tübingen:
Mohr, 1996) 138–48.
3
Augustine himself calls Vergil summus poeta in Enchiridion 17 and poeta nobilissimus in Civ.
4.11 and 10.27. See MacCormack, 1–44 (on “Their Renowned Poet”). Hagendahl, 2.384–89, and
Courcelle, Lecteurs païens et lecteurs chrétiens de l’Énéide, discuss the importance of Vergil to
Christians before Augustine.
4
See, for instance, Hiliary of Poitiers Instr. Ps. 5: “Without doubt what is said in the Psalms
must be understood according to the proclamation of the Gospel, so that in whatever persona the
spirit of prophecy speaks, it refers as a whole to the understanding of the glory and power of the
coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, his incarnation, his passion, his kingdom, and our resurrection”
(CCL 61.5–6 [trans. mine]).
5
Pierre Courcelle, Recherches sur les Confessions de saint Augustin (Paris: Boccard, 1950;
expanded ed. 1968). Christine Mohrmann, “The Confessions as a Literary Work of Art” in Études
sur le latin des chrétiens (Roma: 1961) 371–81. Pierre Courcelle, Les Confessions de saint Augustin
dans la tradition littéraire (Paris: 1963). James J. O’Donnell describes the work of Courcelle as
fomenting a “Copernican revolution” in Augustinian studies (Augustine: Confessions. Vol. 1:
Introduction and Text; Vol. 2: Commentary on Books 1–7; Vol. 3 Commentary on Books 8–13,
Indexes [Oxford: Clarendon, 1992] 1.xxi).
6
Julia Kristeva, Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art (New York:
Columbia University Press, 1980) 66. Discussed in Elizabeth A. Clark, Reading Renunciation:
Asceticism and Scripture in Early Christianity (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1999)
122–23.
7
For a fine description of the growing tension, see Robert Markus, “Paganism, Christianity

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quality of Midrashic writings may also describe the Confessions: it “embodies the
more or less untransformed detritus of the previous system. These fragments . . . and
the fissures they create on the surface of the text reveal conflictual dynamics which
led to the present system.”8 This intertextual character of writing does not necessarily
imply the intentional juxtaposition of sources on the part of the author. Rather, it
demonstrates the way every writer or speaker is constituted by discourses he or she
has read and heard.9 Even if Augustine never draws an explicit comparison between
the Aeneid and the Psalter, he does show that these texts powerfully shaped him in
different, even discordant ways. The unique dialogue between the Aeneid and the
Psalms within the Confessions, therefore, reveals not only how words—whether the
words of the poet or the Word of God—construct Augustine, but also how various
narratives inculcate conflicting patterns of emotion in him.
In this article I will demonstrate that Augustine presents the Aeneid and the
Psalms as embodying incompatible forms of life. Each possesses a distinct cultural
authority as well as a characteristic speech or voice to be imitated. By assimilating
each voice, the speaker cultivates a set of emotions that represent and regenerate
particular types of social relationships and cultural scripts. For the mature Augustine,
Vergil’s epic produces a template for an imperial culture that institutionalizes a
disordered drive to exalt oneself over others and to effect one’s own will.10 The
Psalms, by contrast, offer a therapeutic program to heal a disordered fixation on
self and to help a person gradually cling to God. The Confessions show Augustine
adopting the words of each, but the Aeneid abets his own ambition to garner praise
from others while the Psalms reorient his desire so that he wishes to praise God
alone. The classical poem elicits emotions deriving from false posturing and pride;
the biblical songs enact the humble acceptance of one’s true status as a creature.
Furthermore, such tensions between classical and biblical voices within the
Confessions betray conflict among late-fourth-century textual communities as
well as an underlying anxiety Augustine feels toward the use of language itself.
and the Latin Classics in the Fourth Century,” in Latin Literature of the Fourth Century (ed. J. W.
Binns; London: Routledge, 1974) 1–21.
8
Daniel Boyarin, Intertextuality and the Reading of Midrash (Bloomington: Indiana University
Press, 1994) 94: “Intertextuality is, in a sense, the way that history, understood as cultural and
ideological change and conflict, records itself within textuality.” For a more theoretical discussion of
“double-voiced discourse,” see Mikhail Bakhtin, The Dialogical Imagination (trans. Caryl Emerson
and Michael Holquist; Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981) 324–29.
9
Boyarin, 135 n. 2, offers a helpful discussion of the synchronic and diachronic aspects of
discursive practices. For a discussion of the intertextual quality of the Confessions as such, see
Frances Young, “The Confessions of St. Augustine: What is the Genre of this Work?” Augustinian
Studies 30 (1999) 1–16. On intertexuality as a part of ancient literary culture that affects patristic
writers, see Frances Young, Biblical Exegesis and the Formation of Christian Culture (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1997) 97–100.
10
On the link between Roman education and imperial values, see John Cavadini, “Pride” in
Augustine through the Ages: An Encyclopedia (ed. Allan Fitzgerald; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans,
1999) 679–84.

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As the art of moving souls through words, ancient rhetoric implied “a system of
formal values”11 and the diligent fostering of literary norms. These norms were
rigorously maintained through appeal to massive imposing authorities such as
Vergil. The Aeneid, above all, constituted a kind of “cultural scripture,” which not
only exemplified proper literary style (Latinitas), but also perpetuated the ideals
of the Roman imperium. The grammatici and rhetores who maintained standards
of Vergilian eloquence (among whom the young Augustine was a rising star) had
the important political function of propagating the imperial values that Vergil
represented.12 Moreover, they found themselves, through imitation and intertextual
allusion, implicated within the same value system and affective patterns they
reproduced. After Vergil, students of rhetoric would strive to emulate the great
poet’s talent at evoking a range of emotions through a wide variety of strategies.13
By the late-fourth century, however, venerable classical models such as Vergil
faced rivals. Many of the grammatical texts of this time attempted to galvanize
classical culture against a growing Christian community that looked to very
different literary paradigms. The commentary by Servius (ca. 380–425), In Vergili
carmina, even promoted Vergil as a religious authority, and in his Saturnalia (ca.
431), Macrobius reacts against the kind of critique of pagan literature found among
Christian authors.14
In contrast to the epic authority of the Aeneid, the Psalms exercised a very
different kind of influence among Christians of late antiquity. The rise of
monasticism and ascetical custom throughout the fourth century had fully secured
the Psalms’ dominance as the prayer of the church. Though sometimes illiterate,
the desert monks learned large sections of the Psalter by heart, and the use of the
Psalms quickly spread beyond the monastic cell.15 Augustine recounts that Monica
joined Ambrose’s Milanese congregation when it spent a whole night in the church
singing hymni et psalmi in face of the persecution of the Arian empress Justina.16
11
Henri Marrou, A History of Education in Antiquity (trans. George Lamb; New York: Sheed
and Ward, 1956) 204.
12
Martin Irvine, The Making of Textual Culture: ‘Grammatica’ and Literary Theory, 350–1100
(New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994) 76–80, 136.
13
Macrobius, for instance, analyzes Vergil in order to see “how the pattern of a speech expresses
and evokes emotion.” Macrobius, Saturnalia 4.2.1 (trans. Percival Vaughan Davies; New York:
Columbia University Press, 196) 256.
14
See Irvine, The Making of Textual Culture, 136, 147.
15
On the use of Psalms in early monasticism, see Douglas Burton-Christie, The Word in the
Desert: Scripture and the Quest for Holiness in Early Christian Monasticism (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1993) 97. On various forms of psalmody in the fourth century, Robert Taft, The
Liturgy of the Hours in East and West (2d rev. ed.; Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1993).
16
Augustine, Confessiones, 9.7.15 (ed. Martin Skutella; Stuttgart, Teubner, 1981) 193. Unless
otherwise noted, all translations of the Confessions are those of Maria Boulding in Saint Augustine:
The Confessions (Hyde Park: New City, 1997). References to the Psalms in this paper will refer
to the numbering in Augustine’s Vetus Latina Psalter. For an explanation, see Michael Cameron,
“Enarrationes in Psalmos,” in Augustine through the Ages: An Encyclopedia (ed. Allan D. Fitzgerald;
Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1999) 290.

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The sheer popularity of the Psalms as a source for a living biblical texture for
Christians from a broad spectrum of social strata explains why patristic exegesis
on David’s book proliferates far more than commentaries on any other biblical
text.17 Such commentaries, moreover, routinely stressed the Psalms’ power to
cure destructive emotions.18 The Alexandrian patriarch Athanasius indicated that,
unlike other scriptural books, the Christian may read the Psalms “as if he himself
were speaking,” and find in them “the remedy and corrective measure” for a vast
range of affections.19 Like Augustine after him, Athanasius believed that the Psalms
anticipate Christ’s humility in the incarnation and that, by patterning ourselves after
the Psalms, our affective dispositions are modeled after that of the living image
of perfect virtue.20
Given the larger literary and cultural competition in the late-fourth and early
-fifth centuries, therefore, the way Augustine constructs the Confessions out of
diverse sources represents a strange paradox. On the one hand, he seems to reject
the Aeneid while, on the other hand, he models portions of his own narrative on it.21
To explain this apparent contradiction one scholar contends that Augustine redeems
Vergil for the Christian by suggesting a kind of spiritual reading of the Aeneid.22
I, by contrast, argue that in his Confessions Vergil is as unredeemed as Augustine
himself. The Aeneid remains a kind of literary foil to the Psalms: the poem relating
the “wanderings of some fellow called Aeneas” constitutes an anti-type to those
“songs full of faith, outbursts of devotion” that Augustine discovers in Milan.23
Vergil’s evocation of Roman pride and disordered affection, which Augustine
associates with his early life, contrasts with the Psalms’ fostering of Christian
humility. Since Augustine intends the Confessions to mark his spiritual progress,
17

Brian Daley, “Is Patristic Exegesis Still Usable?: Reflections on Early Christian Interpretation
of the Psalms,” Communio 29 (2002) 204–5. Daley suggests that we still have Psalm commentaries
by at least twenty-one patristic authors.
18
Basil of Caesarea notes that precisely in their sweetness the Psalms benefit those who
hear them, “just as wise physicians who, when giving the fastidious rather bitter drugs to drink,
frequently smear the cup with honey.” In Basil, Homily on Psalm 1.1 (trans. A. Way; FC 46:
152). The reference suggests Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 1.933–34. In his treatise on prayer,
Evagrius of Pontus teaches that the use of Psalms “puts the passions to sleep and works to calm
the incontinence of the body.” In Evagrius of Pontus: The Greek Ascetic Corpus (trans. Robert E.
Sinkewicz; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003) 202. On psalmody as a spiritual remedy, see
Luke Dysinger, O.S.B. Psalmody and Prayer in the Writings of Evagrius Ponticus (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2005) 104–30.
19
Athanasius, Ep. Marcell. 11–12 (PG 27.21–25).
20
For a fine recent discussion, see Paul R. Kolbet, “Athanasius, the Psalms, and the Reformation
of the Self,” HTR 99 (2006) 85–101. Conf. 10.33.50 offers inconclusive evidence on whether
Augustine knew of Athanasius’s letter.
21
MacCormack, Shadows, 226 notes that Augustine’s treatment of Vergil is “sometimes in the
nature of a dialogue and at other times in the nature of confrontation.”
22
Bennett, “Conversion of Vergil,” 48, 67.
23
Conf. 1.13.20 Aeneae nescio cuius errores (Skut. 16 [Boulding, 53]; Conf. 9.4.8 cantica fidelia,
sonos pietatis (Skut. 184 [Boulding, 214]).

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throughout the narrative allusions to the epic are overwhelmed by great swells
of biblical verses. Even so, vestiges of the Aeneid recur up until the culminating
vision at Ostia in Book Nine. Augustine has not thereby baptized Vergil. Rather,
he can no more escape the influence of his classical past than he can presume to
be the author of a new Christian “self.”24 As Peter Brown notes, in the Confessions
the “then” of the young man is sometimes difficult to distinguish from the “now”
of the bishop. “The past can come very close: its powerful and complex emotions
have only recently passed away; we can still feel their contours through the thin
layer of new feeling that has grown over them.”25
Like Augustine’s enduring internal conflicts, therefore, the relationship between
classical literature and scripture within his narrative reflects more of an uneasy
truce than a clear triumph of latter virtues over former vices.26 As he internalizes
the voice of the Psalms, he signals his unease with Vergilian discourse. In what
follows, then, I will show how the presence of the Aeneid and the Psalter in the
Confessions represents this conflict and shift between major signifying systems.
A focus on Books I and IX will make this dynamic especially clear. Both at the
level of the work’s overall narrative structure and within specific passages, we
witness the selective assimilation of competing voices and hear their reverberating
echoes. While Augustine valorizes the voice of the Psalms and rejects that of
Vergil, fragments of the latter are never eliminated but remain as indications of
the ideological tension that Augustine inhabits.

■ The Aeneid in the Confessions
Structural and Thematic Echoes
Although Augustine’s explicit references to the Aeneid are few, the shadows of
Vergil within the narrative of the Confessions are deep.27 The whole structure
of the Confessions may be understood as resembling the great Roman epic. In
pursuit of his destiny, the hero wanders from place to place while endangered
by snares, tempted by pleasures, graced with divine aid, and led by occasional
24
Charles T. Mathewes, “Book One: The Presumptuousness of Autobiography and the Paradoxes
of Beginning,” in A Reader’s Companion to Augustine’s Confessions (ed. Kim Paffenroth and Robert
Kennedy; Louisville: Knox, 2003) 7–23, argues persuasively that the Confessions, and especially
Book I, effectively deny the ability to write an honest autobiography, because finally the “self” is
given, not self-authored. Fissures in the intertext thus represent the tensions Augustine represents
in himself throughout the work.
25
Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo: A Biography (new ed.; Berkeley: University of California
Press, 2000) 157.
26
Catherine Chin, “Christians and the Roman Classroom: Memory, Grammar, and Rhetoric in
Confessions X,” Augustinian Studies 33 (2002) 182, stresses the difficulties of maintaining the category
of a “pure” Christianity as distinct from classical culture: “The articulation of ‘Christianity’ and
‘classicism’ as distinct entities in contemporary scholarship is in some ways a historical reproduction
of the opposition Augustine attempts to maintain, albeit unsuccessfully, in the Confessions.”
27
Thus MacCormack, Shadows, xviii: “Vergil formed part of the very shape of Augustine’s
reality because he described reality in ways that Augustine found decisive.”

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visions. At key moments in the Confessions we hear echoes of the Aeneid. When
the boy moves from Thagaste to Carthage, his reference to the “din of scandalous
love affairs” intimates Aeneas’s liaison with the North African queen Dido.28 In
Carthage Augustine enters into a relationship with a woman he will later dismiss
and abandon. His disavowal of marriage, like Aeneas’s in the fourth book of the
epic, leaves him free to pursue his own vocation in Book VIII.29
Divine revelation and command precipitate both protagonists’ change of heart.
For Aeneas, lingering in North Africa and avoiding his mission, it is the word of
Mercury who bears the message from the father of the gods: “Astonished at such
a great warning and command of the gods, he burns to depart in flight and to leave
behind these sweet lands.”30 For Augustine, dithering over Christian commitment
and hesitating to convert, it is the reading of Paul’s letter to the Romans in answer
to the child’s voice to “pick up and read”: “No sooner had I reached the end of the
verse than the light of certainty flooded my heart and all dark shades fled away.”31
Although Augustine patterns his own reading of Paul not after Book IV of the
Aeneid but after the story he relates of the court officials’ reading of Athanasius’s
Life of Anthony, this famous scene unmistakably reflects the common practice of
divination noted in Book IV of the Confessions. A person looking for guidance
in the pages of some poet, particularly Vergil, finds a line that is “wonderfully
apposite to the question at hand.”32 Paul’s letter to the Romans falls into the custom
of sortes Vergilianae.
Augustine leaves Carthage for Rome far more easily than Aeneas, yet even here
his departure betrays similarities to his epic counterpart. Aeneas steals away without
telling Dido, just as Augustine slips away from Monica. Her cries resemble those of
Dido, and Augustine’s portrayal of his mother’s reaction fits Vergil’s characterization
of the noble heroine at the end of Aeneid IV. When Monica comprehends that
Augustine had taken flight, she “becomes insane with grief and cries” (insaniebat
dolore et querellis), just as Dido, “conquered by grief, became mad” (concepit furias
evicta dolore).33 Later in the Confessions Monica appears in the guise, not of Dido,
but of Aeneas’s father Anchises. When Augustine sits with Monica at the window in
Ostia, we can feel the Vergilian parallel. Resting from the labors of one long journey
while preparing for another, Augustine looks over a garden and shares with his

28

Conf. 3.1.1 (Skut. 36 [Boulding, 75]): sartago flagitiosorum amorum.
Compare Conf. 4.2.2 with Aen. 4.338–39.
30
Aen. 4.281–2: ardet arbire fuga dulcisque relinquere terras,/attonitus tanto monitu imperioque
deorum. The text of the Aeneid is that of Roger Mynors (Oxford Classical Texts, 1969). Translations
of the Aeneid are mine.
31
Conf. 8.12.29 (Skut. 178 [Boulding, 207]): nec ultra uolui legere nec opus erat. Statim quippe
cum fine huiusce sententiae quasi luce securitatis infusa cordi meo omnes dubitationis tenebrae
diffugerunt.
32
Conf. 4.3.5 (Skut. 57 [Boulding, 95]): mirabiliter consonus negotio.
33
Conf. 5.8.15 (Skut. 88 [translation mine]); Aen. 4.474; see also Aen. 4.665–66.
29

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HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW

mother, who is about to die, a vision of eternal glory.34 Similarly Aeneas, midway
in his odyssey from Troy to Rome, contemplates with his dead father the future
glory of the empire assembled in a green meadow.35 Augustine’s literary modeling
exemplifies the ideal of those highly educated citizens who had “absorbed books
so completely that they could exhale them.”36 Thus, when Augustine speaks of the
apparent fickleness of justice, he alludes to Mercury’s suggestion in the Aeneid
that a woman in love is varia et mutabilis, and in describing his young mother’s
readiness for marriage, he uses an expression, plenis annis nobilis, that Vergil coins
to describe the Latin princess Lavinia.37
Double Voicing and Emotional Conflict
Although the narrative structure of the Confessions bears similarities to that of the
Aeneid, intimations of the epic always occur within a weave whose primary thread
comes from the Psalms. Augustine’s easy allusion to Vergil points to the long and
labored process of rhetorical education that provides young men with stock phrases
and poetic constructs worthy of emulation. The Confessions suggest not only that
Augustine had learned his trade well but that his own life had been “shaped by
imitation of the epic.”38 Yet even when Augustine shows how profoundly he has
been shaped by the voice of Vergil, the voice of David constantly opposes. In his
earliest reference to the Aeneid, for instance, Augustine describes how thoroughly
classical mimesis formed both his ability to speak and his capacity to feel. When
discussing his love of Latin literature taught by the grammatici, he recounts his
initial encounter with those letters:
in which I was forced to memorize the wanderings of some fellow called
Aeneas, while forgetting my own wanderings, and to weep over Dido, who
killed herself for love, when all the while in my intense misery I put up with
never a tear, as I died away from you, O God, who are my life.39

Although Augustine’s reference to “some fellow called Aeneas” may connote a sense
of disdain, both the literary chiasm (Aeneae . . . errores oblitus errorum meorum)
and the way he compares Dido’s death to his own spiritual dying underscore how
closely the author links literary identification, his learning of emotions, and his own
experience. While it seems strange for a boy to identify with the suicidal leanings of
the great queen of Carthage, it is precisely by internalizing set roles that Augustine
34

Conf. 9.10.23; see Bennett, “Conversion of Vergil,” 65 and O’Donnell, 3.123.
Aen. 6.679ff.
36
Maud W. Gleason, Making Men: Sophists and Self-Presentation in Ancient Rome (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1995) xxiv.
37
Conf. 3.7.13, alluding to Aen. 4.569–70; Conf. 9.9.19, alluding to Aen. 7.53.
38
Bennett, “Conversion of Vergil,” 61.
39
quibus tenere cogebar Aeneae nescio cuius errores oblitus errorum meorum et plorare Didonem
mortuam, quia se occidit ab amore, cum interea me ipsum in his a te morientem, deus, vita mea, siccis
oculis ferrem miserrimus. Conf. 1.13.20 (Skut. 16 [Boulding, 53, with slight modification]).
35

MICHAEL C. MCCARTHY

461

comes to understand and interpret his own emotions. Culturally narrated scenarios
as well as adopted speech patterns shape his affective experience.
As dearly as Augustine the boy loved to weep over Dido, the author of
Confessions regards the experience as based in a misperception of reality. Although
he sees the usefulness of learning letters, the elaborate fictions of Aeneas or Dido are
part of the sin and vanity of life that the psalmist clearly describes. Thus Augustine
alludes to the wanderings of Aeneas and the death of Dido only after quoting
Psalm 77, which says to God that “I am flesh and a shadow that walks and does not
return.”40 The psalm’s assertion that the speaker is a walking shadow before God
is thematically linked to the emptiness of poetic fantasies. Yet the biblical voice
constitutes a true confession because it addresses God without self-deception and
acknowledges the speaker’s lowliness with all sobriety. By contrast, as he describes
it in Book I, Augustine’s failure to detach his own affective life from the story of
Dido implicates him in a self-indulgent illusion. Her plight, after all, is a fiction;
his own misery is real.
The risk the later Augustine sees in Vergilian emotions as opposed to those
arising from the Psalms is that they divert our attention from its proper focus on
God and reinforce patterns based on falsehood. Although Augustine avers that God
alone will satisfy a person’s desires, he also recognizes that humans are habituated
through scripted roles to look for satisfaction elsewhere. Thus, cultural paradigms
consign individuals to emotional frustration. Augustine characterizes this paradox
with consummate artistry. Word repetition and antithetical phrases in the following
passage underline the perversity of weeping for Dido’s death rather than his own
death, which comes about, not by loving one who doesn’t exist (Aeneas), but by
not loving the very God immediately present to him. I present his question in lines
that illustrate the structure of Augustine’s text:
What is there more pitiful than a pitiful person not pitying himself,
weeping for the death of Dido, which came about by loving Aeneas,
while not weeping for his own death, which came about by not loving
you, O God.41

Note too how the balancing of a line of Vergilian hexameter (Aen. 6.457) with
Genesis 3:19 highlights central contradictions arising from Augustine’s emotional
investment in a fictional structure.
I did not weep for these things; I wept for Dido “slain as she pursued her
last moment by a sword,” while I myself pursued the last things created by
abandoning you, going from dust to dust.42
40

Ps 77:39: caro eram et spiritus ambulans et non revertens. See Conf. 1.13.20 (Skut. 15).

quid enim miserius misero non miserante se ipsum
et flente Didonis mortem, quae fiebat amando Aenean,
non flente mortem suam, quae fiebat non amando te, deus. Conf. 1.13.21 (Skut. 16 [trans.
41

mine]).
42
Et haec non flebam, et flebam

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Augustine is not insisting that it is wrong to weep for a fictional character. To
pattern his own emotional life on that of the great epic heroine, however, represents
the kind of self-delusion and affective formatting that ends, not in the acceptance
of his existence as given by God nor in love of neighbor, but in the pursuit of that
which is unreal, inherently frustrating, and, for that reason, deadly. Weeping for
Dido is an Ersatz compassion. 43 It is empty because it yields no substantive good
for others or for oneself. Compare Monica’s tearful pleas for her misguided son,
described in words reminiscent of the psalmist: “[y]ou heard her and did not scorn
those tears of hers.”44 As we shall see, in Book IX of the Confessions Augustine
will show how the Psalms train him to weep appropriately. These early passages,
describing the misdirected pity and misery he feels as he identifies with characters
from the Aeneid, are set within a contrasting range of psalm references stressing
God’s authentic mercy toward his own misery. Regarding his fascination with
shows, Augustine begs: “Look with mercy on these follies, Lord, and set us free
who already call on you,” and in describing his studies, he prays that he may not
grow weary confessing God’s acts of mercy. 45
Learning to Speak
Augustine’s allusions to the Aeneid function within his larger presentation of his
education. Throughout Book I of the Confessions, the learning of language is
especially fraught with moral problems, precisely because it is associated with
the imitation of cultural patterns that Augustine regards as disordered. Augustine
diagnoses the disorder as the result of “friendship of this world” (amicitia mundi
Dīdō/nem ēxtīnc/tām fēr/rōque ēx/trēmă sĕc/ūtām
sequens ipse extrema condita tua relicto te
et terra iens in terram. Conf. 1.13.21 (Skut. 16 [translation mine]).
Compare Aen. 6.457: vēnĕrăt/ ēxtīnc/tām fēr/rōque ēx/trēmă sĕc/ūtām. The biblical allusion to
God’s reminding of Adam and Eve that they are “dust” as they leave paradise evokes the cause of
the Fall, i.e., their believing that they could be what they are not (i.e., not “dust” but, as the serpent
insinuates, “gods”). In his discussion of theatrical spectacles in Conf. 3.2, Augustine returns to the
phenomenon of a similar illusion: the mirabilis insania of enjoying grieving for things which no one
would actually want to suffer. The better the actor imitates the suffering the more intense the pleasure
for the audience. On fourth-century critiques (esp. Chrysostom) of the deceptive quality of theater
and rhetorical show, see Blake Leyerle, Theatrical Shows and Ascetic Lives: John Chrysostom’s
Attack on Spiritual Marriage (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001) 44–7.
43
On the “falseness” of his sorrow, see Kim Paffenroth, “The Young Augustine: Lover of Sorrow,”
Downside Review 118 (2000) 221–30. Also William Werphowski, “Weeping at the Death of Dido:
Sorrow, Virtue, and Augustine’s Confessions,” Journal of Religious Ethics 18 (2001) 175–91. For
possible antecedents to Augustine’s condemnation, see Howard Jacobson, “Augustine and Dido,”
HTR 65 (1972) 296–97.
44
Conf. 3.11.19 (Skut. 51 [Boulding, 89]) exaudisti nec despexisti lacrimas. Compare Ps 6:10:
Exaudivit Dominus vocem fletus mei; exaudivit Dominus deprecationem meam.
45
Conf. 1.10.16 (Skut. 13 [Boulding, 50]). See Ps 24:16: Respice in me, et miserere mei,
quoniam unicus et pauper sum ego. See too Conf. 1.15.24 (Skut. 18), with allusions to Ps 106: 8,
15, 21, 31.

MICHAEL C. MCCARTHY

463

huius) rather than love of God, and in the very passage in which Augustine quotes
Vergil, he also quotes two psalms. He describes the alienation following the
“friendship of this world” in the words of Psalm 72:27: “fornication from you.”46
The voices that urge him to imitate the epic are those of the wicked flatterers
whom the Psalmist curses in Psalm 39:16 because they shout euge! euge! while not
promoting what will give him real joy.47 Thus Augustine sees his early identification
with characters of the Aeneid as revealing a corrupt web of social relations in which
he finds himself.48 As the Psalms frequently show concern for the wicked tongues
of others, throughout the first book of the Confessions, Augustine describes how
crucially linguistic convention is bound up with an ambiguous cultural reality.
While he may wish that he could learn to use language without being implicated in
a complex arrangement of social practices, to cultivate the tongue is to find oneself
immersed in an inherited semiotic system that produces questionable relationships
and a false sense of “self.” Augustine describes his education as entry into a common
“pact,” “agreement,” or “arrangement.”49 As a child, for instance, he discovers that
by arranging words in a certain way he can manipulate others, and thereupon he
enters “more deeply into the stormy society of human life.”50 Later he asserts that
if he asked how to spell Aeneas’s name, those who spoke truth would respond “in
accordance with the settled convention which people have among themselves in
fixing those signs.”51
Linguistic arrangement, however, constructs a speaker’s sense of value and
emotion. By learning a language through narrative structure one is necessarily
swept into the “irresistible flood of human custom.” 52 The grammatici may
argue that through classical myth youths learn words, but Augustine points out
that such a process is hardly innocent. A boy, he concedes, may learn the words
imbrem (shower), aureum (gold), gremium (lap), and fucum (scam) through the
story of Danaae’s rape as represented in the text of Terence’s comedy, but their
particular grouping (quo pacto) provides more than a lesson in vocabulary: “In this
arrangement they say that Jove once sent a golden shower into the lap of Danaae,
a scam done to the woman.”53 An adolescent looking at this same story depicted
46

Conf. 1.13.21 (Skut. 16).
Conf. 1.13.21 (Skut. 16). O’Donnell 2.79 also cites Ps 34:21, 24–25 and Ps 69:4.
48
Conf. 1.13.21 (Skut. 16), suggesting James 4:4 (“the friendship of this world is enmity with
God.”)
49
For example, Conf. 1.18.29 (Skut. 22) on “conventions” (pacta) in speech. On Augustine’s
insistence on the social construction of meaning, largely through speech patterns, see Robert A.
Markus, Signs and Meanings: World and Text in Ancient Christianity (Liverpool: 1996) 40–41.
50
Conf. 1.8.13 (Skut. 11; [Boulding, 48]).
47

51
Conf. 1.13.22 (Skut. 17; [Boulding, 54]): secundum id pactum et placitum quo inter se homines
ista signa firmarunt.
52
53

Conf. 1.16.25 (Skut. 19; [Boulding, 55]): vae tibi, flumen moris humani! quis resistet tibi?

Conf. 1.16.26 (Skut. 20 [translation mine]): Iovem quo pacto Danaae misisse aiunt in gremium
quondam imbrem aureum, fucum factum mulieri.

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in fresco receives a divine lesson in rape and with joy proclaims: “What a god!
Little man that I am, I cannot make the heavens thunder, but I can do that all too
willingly!”54 The fellow who, like Augustine, learns such things easily and imitates
well, enjoys cultural approval: “on account of this I was called a promising lad.”55
But we hear nothing of the girl he tricks nor how she feels. Furthermore, the boy’s
treatment of the rape as if it were a game reminds us of Augustine’s own love of
play, which he cannot dismiss as an expression of childhood innocence because
it is so closely tied to the uncontrollable desire to gain victory over others and
reflects the same craving he finds among adults. In fact, Augustine admits that
he himself is overcome by this lust to be counted as excellent.56 When he cannot
win by legitimate means, he cheats, and yet becomes angry if he is accused. Such
rage, if permitted to grow, develops into an adult orator’s lust for fame, when with
savage hatred (odio inmanissimo) and with the fury of his own spirit (per mentis
furorem), he destroys a man in court through elegant speech.57
Augustine finds the approval he receives to be far from harmless, because it ties
his personal formation to a vast, largely unreflective imperial culture fired by the
lust for domination and praise.58 If throughout the Confessions Augustine artfully
narrates his life in terms which allude to the great Roman epic, we must never forget
Vergil’s prominence among the classics that first provided the young rhetor with a
kind of affective education.59 Indeed, Vergil’s ability to arouse pathos and involve
his readers in the emotion of a passage was something devoutly to be emulated.60
When he speaks of his own rhetorical abilities, for instance, Augustine describes
his early prize-winning performance in which he turned Vergil’s hexameters into
prose and declaimed in the manner of the wrathful Juno. As the queen of the gods
whose “slighted power” and “eternal wound” enkindle her rage against the Trojans,
Juno has the first speech in the Aeneid, and it falls to the young rhetor Augustine to
imitate her envious passion.61 Such competitive exercises were common in ancient
54

Conf. 1.16.26 (Skut. 20 [translation mine]): quem deum, qui templa caeli summo sonitu
concutit!/ ego homuncio id non facerem? ego illud vero feci ac libens. Paraphrase and quotation
from Terence, Eunuchus, 583–91.
55
Conf. 1.16.26 (Skut. 20 [trans. mine]): ob hoc bonae spei puer appellabar.
56
Conf. 1.19.30 (Skut. 23): ipse uana excellentiae cupiditate uictus.
57
Conf. 1.18.29 (Skut. 23).
58
See Cavadini, “Pride,” 681.
59

Consider Geertz’s famous analysis of the Balinese cockfight: “What the cockfight says it
says in a vocabulary of sentiment. . . . Attending cockfights and participating in them is, for the
Balinese, a kind of sentimental education. What he learns there is what his culture’s ethos and his
private sensibility . . . look like when spelled out externally in a collective text.” Clifford Geertz,
The Interpretation of Cultures (New York: Basic Books, 1973) 449, as noted in Gleason, Making
Men, xxxii, n. 13. See also Martha C. Nussbaum, The Therapy of Desire: Theory and Practice in
Hellenistic Ethics (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994) 508.
60
MacCormack, The Shadows of Poetry, 90–94.
61

numine laeso (Aen. 1.8) and aeternum vulnus (Aen. 1.36). Note Augustine’s own cleverness in
incorporating hexameters into the prose (soluta verba) of Conf. 1.17.27: non posset Italia Teucrorum

MICHAEL C. MCCARTHY

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rhetorical education. Quintilian, for instance, prescribes that students imitate epic
orations by changing them into their own words, and the effect of Juno’s emotions on
the hearer becomes an object of considerable interest to Macrobius.62 In Augustine’s
case, the contestant who most effectively evoked the proper affectus of wrath and
grief of Juno wins the day.63
The ire of Juno presented particularly vexing theological problems to late
ancient commentators on Vergil, but for Augustine Juno’s wrath and grief over
her injured pride reflects his own fragile affective state.64 He criticizes not merely
his appropriation of an angry mythological persona but the deeper motivation
formatting his cultivation of emotions: the desire to be recognized as great and his
fear, shame, anxiety, and rage at the possibility that he might not be so regarded.
In the passage in which he first discusses the Aeneid Augustine suggests that he
learned Vergil in order to hear the shouts of “well done! well done!” everywhere
about him. Not to hear these cries was a disgrace.65 Augustine likewise assumed the
role of Juno, herself the apotheosis of injured pride, in order to enjoy the dubious
rewards of praise.66 His subsequent apostrophe to God highlights the emptiness
and falsehood he finds in cultural scripts that emphasize self-glorification and in
social practices motived by the desire for prestige and public acclamation. The
contrast with scripture is striking:
What did it profit me, O God, my true life, that my speech was acclaimed
above those of my peers and fellow students? Was it not all smoke and wind?
Was there no other material on which I could have exercised my intelligence
and my tongue? Yes, there was: your praise, O Lord; your praise in the words

avertere regem. (Modified from Aeneid 1.38).
62
Quintilian, Institutiones oratoriae 1.9.2: [Condiscant] versus primo solvere, mox mutatis
verbis interpretari, tum paraphrasi audacius vertere, qua et breviare quaedam et exornare salvo
modo poetae sensu permittitur. (Let them first learn how to take apart the verses, soon to interpret
them with different words, then boldly to change them by paraphrasing, where it is permitted to
shorten some verses and adorn others with the sense of the poet properly maintained.) Macrobius
(Saturnalia 4.2.1, trans. Percival Vaughan Davies [New York: Columbia University Press, 1969],
257) analyzes “how the pattern of a speech expresses and evokes emotion . . . either indignation
or pity.”After illustrating the art with which Juno starts her speeches, he turns to the example of
Juno’s whole oration in Aeneid 7.286–322: “The speech as a whole should be calculated to express
and arouse emotion, both by the brevity of the sentences and by the frequent changes of the figures
employed, thus giving the impression that the speaker is, as it were, being borne to and fro amid
surging waves of anger.”
63

Conf. 1.17.27 (Skut. 21).
MacCormack (Shadows of Poetry, 132–35) discusses the theological concerns of Servius and
Donatus. See too Don Fowler, “The Virgil Commentary of Servius” The Cambridge Companion to
Virgil (ed. C. Martindale; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997) 73–74.
65
Conf. 1.13.21 (Skut. 16).
64

66
Conf. 1.17.27(Skut. 21 [translation mine]): proponebatur . . . mihi negotium animae meae
satis inquietum praemio laudis (A disquieting enough task was set before my soul for the reward
of praise).

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HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW

of scriptures would have supported the drooping vine of my soul, and then it
would not have yielded a crop of worthless fruit for the birds to carry off.67

Whereas in imitating Vergil’s epic Augustine assimilates the expression of vicious
emotions of a non-existent deity only to earn his own glory from an audience he
addresses, he regards an education in scripture as conditioning him to address and
praise the true God alone.
After commenting on this custom of relating terrible deeds in elegant style for
one’s own praise and honor, Augustine clusters together a number of references to
Psalms in an apostrophe to God.68 The vacuity of the classical models he presents
as leading him away from God differs from the steady progression of psalm verses
that indicate movement back to the prodigal son’s gentle father:
“You are exceedingly merciful and worthy of our trust” (Pss 102:8; 85:15).
“From this vast, deep sea you are even now drawing out to safety . . .” (Ps 85:13).
“. . . [a] soul that seeks you and thirsts to enjoy you” (Pss 41:3; 62:2).
“I have sought your face, O Lord, your face will I seek” (Ps 26:8).

In contrast with the way the Psalms move his soul, Augustine thus characterizes
his rhetorical training as schooling his soul in falsehood from the beginning.69 The
falsehood of rhetoric, however, does not merely denote the artful use of language
to stir people (which Augustine never abandons) but rather the production of a kind
of fictional order, on which the speaker is emotionally dependent and in which the
rhetor compulsively seeks to exalt himself over others.
In the theological view represented in the Confessions, rhetorical training
reproduces again and again the archetypal sin of Adam and Eve: the attempt to
replace God. The Aeneid, then, insofar as it represents the chief cultural authority
of late antiquity by which proud rhetores might make themselves great, presents
Augustine with a problem. Later, in composing the City of God, he uses a famous
line from the Aeneid precisely to represent the arrogant spirit in which Romans
commended themselves for something properly belonging to God, not the empire.
“These will be your arts,” says Aeneas’ father Anchises: “to spare the subjected and
to wage war with the proud.”70 In the Confessions Augustine uses Vergil in a manner
67
68

Conf. 1.17.27 (Skut. 21 [Boulding, 57]).
Conf. 1.18.28 (Skut. 21).

69
See Conf. 1.9.14 (Skut. 11), where his elders urge him to excel in linguosis artibus ad honorem
hominum et falsas divitias famulantibus [the linguistic arts which serve human honor and false
riches]. Conf. 3.3.6 (Skut. 40): hoc laudabilior, quo fraudulentior [the more fraudulent I was, the
more likely I was to be praised]. Conf. 6.6.9 (Skut. 107), where he prepares to deliver a speech of
praises for the emperor: quibus plura mentirer, et mentienti faveretur ab scientibus [in which I would
tell more lies, and by lying find favor with those in the know]. Translations mine.
70
Aen. 6.853: parcere subiectis et debellare superbos. Cf. Civ. 1.1, where Augustine answers
with James 4:6 (Prov 3:34): dictum est: ‘deus superbis resistit, humilibus autem dat gratia.’ hoc
vero, quod dei est, superbae quoque animae spiritus inflatus adfectat amatque sibi in laudibus dici:
‘parcere subiectis et debellare superbos.’ (It is said: “God resists the proud but gives grace to the
humble” [James 4:6]. Truly, this is said of God, but the inflated spirit of the proud soul aspires and

MICHAEL C. MCCARTHY

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that would earn any rhetor high praise. In respect to the larger theological purpose
of the Confessions as “making truth,” however, Vergil functions in opposition to
himself.71 Allusions to the poet manifest the emptiness of the rhetorical art over
which he is the supreme authority, the disorder of an educational system that shapes
the emotional lives of young men around the desire for praise, the falsehood of an
empire that makes itself the arbiter of all value and perpetuates its own dynamics
of world dominance through a culture of self-aggrandizement.

■ The Psalms in the Confessions
A Different Tone
If Augustine characterizes his rhetorical formation as a gradual immersion into
cultural narratives over which Vergil exercises great authority and which guide his
quest for acclaim, he regards the Psalms as producing an entirely different culture
and person. The very opening of the Confessions praises God in words suggesting
at least three psalms: “Great are you, Lord, and worthy to be praised.”72 Not only
does this initial invocation to “you, O Lord” mark a significant shift in attention
from the Aeneid’s first focus on the “arms and man” of the Roman hero,73 but
it introduces a radically distinct anthropology. Augustine immediately presents
the human being not as eager to be praised but as desiring—indeed created—to
praise: laudare te vult homo . . . tu excitas, ut laudare te delectet (the human person
longs to praise you . . . you stir us so that praising you will give us delight).74 For
Augustine, the drive for glory and self-satisfaction underlying a culture of pride
proves self-defeating to a heart made “restless until it rests in you.”75 Furthermore,
unlike the rhetorical practice of reproducing a famous speech in one’s own words,
the opening lines of the Confessions are not Augustine’s words but God’s. Thus,
they cannot be turned to the speaker’s own praise.
At a non-theological, strictly linguistic level, however, the words of Augustine’s
Psalter have none of the polish so highly prized among the literati of late antiquity.
They are truly humilia. Indeed, it may be difficult for us to appreciate fully just how
much the style of scripture scandalized Augustine as “unworthy compared to the
loves it to be said in its own praise: “to spare the subjected and to wage war on the proud.”) LCL
411:10–12 [translation mine].
71
Conf. 10.1.1 (Skut. 209 [Boulding, 237]) : “Truth is what I want to do (volo eam facere) in my
heart by confession in your presence, and with my pen before many witnesses.” James O’Donnell
(Confessions 1.xvi) begins the introduction to his commentary by noting that truth for Augustine was
not a quality of verbal formula, “but veracity itself, a quality of a living human person. Augustine
‘made the truth’—in this sense, became himself truthful—when he found a pattern of words to say
the truth well.”
72
Conf. 1.1.1 (Skut. 1): Magnus es, domine, et laudabilis valde. Cf. Ps 95:4; 144:3; 47:2.
73
74
75

Aen. 1.1: arma virumque cano . . .
Conf. 1.1.1 (Skut. 1 [translation mine]).
Conf. 1.1.1.

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dignity of Cicero.”76 Most of Augustine’s Christian contemporaries never possessed
a complete “Bible” as such. They encountered the writings of scripturae first and
foremost by hearing them voiced, not by reading them as a text. Moreover, the
scriptural “books” circulating in fourth- and fifth-century North Africa constitute
what we now call the “Old Latin” (Vetus Latina) version of the Bible, an exceedingly
awkward and literal translation of the Septuagint from the late-second century. To
someone of Augustine’s rhetorical background, the “voice” of such books must have
sounded very peculiar. The vulgar sound of the Latin marked a serious fall from the
Latinitas cultivated by rhetores and grammatici, and we must not underestimate
the effect of this distinctive speech either in the social identity of a unique religious
community or in the psychic formation of a member of that community.77
Yet it was just such lowliness of style that made the Psalter available to a broader,
more socially variegated community. In a commentary on Psalm 103:11 (“All
woodland beasts will drink. The wild beasts will quench their thirst”), Augustine
notes that, unlike the powerful torrents of Cicero or Plato, which are particularly
forbidding to the uneducated, all social classes, the great and the small, are able
to imbibe from the Psalms:
Imagine a voice resounding—Tully’s perhaps. Some book of Cicero is read
. . . Uneducated folk hear it, people of limited understanding. Which of them
is bold enough to aspire to such works? These books are like crashing, turbulent waters, or at least like water flowing so dangerously that a timid animal
dare not approach to drink. . . . Is there anyone who hears a psalm ring out
and says, “That is above my head”? Take the strains of our present psalm, for
instance; they conceal mysteries, to be sure, but so sweet are they that even
children delight to listen to them. The unskilled approach to drink, and being
satisfied they burst out into psalmody.78

To Augustine these dynamics of the Psalter, which bring together persons of varied
social positions, significantly contrast with classical literature, whose imitation
and expression elevates the educated man above his fellows. Again, the person
who through oratorical competition subtly interiorizes, for instance, the wrathful
affectus of Juno grieving over her injured pride, will be more concerned in a court
of law not to look bad than to avoid the rage through which he removes a fellow
human from society.79 By contrast, Augustine’s immersion into linguistic patterns
of scripture does not set him over others but places him with them. When he cites or
alludes to Psalms in over 400 places throughout the Confessions, it is not simply a
matter of showing artfulness or erudition. Rather, it reflects Augustine’s immersion
76

Conf. 3.5.9 (Skut. 42): visa est mihi indigna quam Tuliianae dignitati compararem.
Rowan Williams, “Language, Reality and Desire in Augustine’s De Doctrina,” Journal of
Literature and Theology 3 (1989) 138.
78
Augustine, Enarrationes in Psalmos 103(3).4 (CCL 40.1501–2). As translated in Maria Boulding,
Expositions of the Psalms (Hyde Park, N.Y.: New City, 2000–2004) 5.142.
79
Conf. 1.18.29 (Skut. 22–23).
77

MICHAEL C. MCCARTHY

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into the common liturgical life of fourth-century Catholic Christianity.80 His daily
recitation of the Psalms over the years colored his own self-understanding and
self-expression.81
In Book I of the Confessions, where Augustine describes his own education in
speech and where we find the most explicit references to the Aeneid, some thirty or
more allusions to the Psalms also appear. Yet in contrast to the language Augustine
learns in order to move others, the language of the Psalms is granted, not mastered.
The particular voice of the Psalms is that of humility before the creator, who is, in
Augustine’s view, completely other and alone worthy of praise. Furthermore, the
apparent pretense of narrating one’s own “autobiography” is severely undercut by
language that continues to suggest that God could tell Augustine’s story far better
than he can. From the outset Augustine manifests the poverty of his own speech. In
the proem of the book, for instance, after meditating on the difficulties of addressing
God, Augustine asks, “What does anyone who speaks about you really say?” In
words replete with Psalm verses, Augustine finally appeals to God whose aid he
accepts in the form of scripture:
Through your own merciful dealings with me, O Lord my God, tell me what
you are to me. Say to my soul, I am your salvation. Say it so that I can hear
it. My heart is listening, Lord; open the ears of my heart and say to my soul,
I am your salvation. Let me run toward this voice and seize hold of you. Do
not hide your face from me. Let me die so that I may see it, for not to see it
would be death to me indeed.82

The passage is interwoven with verses that collectively establish the genre of
confession. The plea for God to speak through “your own merciful dealings” echoes
Psalm 106:8, 21, 31,83 and the repetition of the prayer “Say to my soul, I am your
salvation” is a direct quote of Psalm 34:3.84 The appeal to God not to “hide your
face” echoes a theme heard throughout the Psalter.85 The expression of ardent desire
for God’s self-disclosure through the accumulation of imperatives—speak/say
80
James J. O’Donnell notes that few scholars of the Confessions take seriously the importance
of ritual and ceremony to late ancient men and women: “Augustine is verbose about doctrine,
close-mouthed about ritual. He appears to us as a man of doctrine exclusively, though he himself
tells us . . . otherwise. There is a proportion to be redressed, and no accurate guide to the correct
balance. Augustine’s Christianity was not 100% doctrine: 0% ritual, or even 80%:20%; but was it
20% doctrine: 80% ritual? . . . We are left to wander between the extremes, following our hunches.
What is clear is that cult was decisive for him: without cult, no Christianity” (O’Donnell, Confessions
1.xxviii–xxix).
81
Paul Burns, “Augustine’s Distinctive Use of the Psalms in the Confessions,” 143. For an
interesting approach, see Hjalman Sundén, “Saint Augustine and the Psalter in Light of RolePsychology,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 26 (1987) 375–82.
82
Conf. 1.5.5 (Skut. 4 [Boulding, 42]).
83
See also 1.15.24, 5.1.1, 5.10.20. An excellent discussion of this and many points of Augustine’s
use of the psalms in the Confessions can be found in Knauer, Psalmenzitate ,78.
84
Knauer, Psalmenzitate, 67–8.
85
Ps 12:2; 45:25; 78:8; 90:47; 95:3.

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(dic, used four times), open (aperi), do not hide (noli abscondere)—emphasizes
Augustine’s longing.86 The language of the Psalms reflects rightly ordered emotions
because it focuses on God, not on the self.
The next paragraph, which concludes the proem, has an even higher density of
Psalm citations. The quotation of Psalm 18:13, “Cleanse me of my hidden sins, O
Lord, and for those incurred through others pardon your servant,” is speech that,
with other psalm allusions, forms an antitype to the forensic rhetoric revealed at
the end of Book I.87 Instead of accusing and destroying another whom one cannot
fully know in language that is deeply self-conscious, the Psalms are the words of a
divine other, given to Augustine so that he can confess worthily and be rebuilt, not
destroyed. Furthermore, the very confidence that the other knows what Augustine
will say before he can himself formulate it removes the possibility of pretense
and manipulation that characterizes the dynamics he learns from his society. His
avowal, which evokes the Psalms—“I believe, and so I will speak (Ps 115:10). You
know everything, Lord (Ps 68:6)”—suggests a transparency that grounds authentic
speech.88 Since God is immediately present to the heart, the only deception is
self-deception: “For you are truth itself; nor do I wish to deceive myself, lest my
iniquity be caught in its own lies (Ps 26:12). No, I do not argue the case with you,
because if you, Lord, keep the score of our iniquities, then who, Lord, can bear it
(Ps 129:3)?”89 The language of the Psalms, for Augustine, recreates, rebuilds, and
expands in a way that keeps all affections oriented toward God.
Book Nine: Learning to Speak Again
Although Book VIII is frequently considered the emotional climax of the narrative
section of the Confessions, it is in Book IX that Augustine renounces the profession
for which he had prepared his whole life. He presents himself for baptism, makes
the famous ascent with Monica at Ostia, and grieves her death. The story of his
conversion includes multiple references to losing and regaining his voice, and he
finally learns to speak again through the Psalms. He knows it will please God to
withdraw the ministry of his tongue from garrulity and to abandon a literature that
served “lying insanity and forensic battles.”90 Yet he presents his retirement from
teaching the classics as coinciding with his espousal of scripture, which long before
he had rejected because he was too proud to espouse a low style he regarded as
“unworthy.”91 Augustine describes this movement of his life with an unmistakable
reference to the Psalms of Ascent.92 The words of the Psalms penetrated Augustine
86
87
88
89
90
91
92

Conf. 1.5.5 (Skut. 4).
Conf. 1.5.6 (Skut. 5 [Boulding, 42]).
Ibid.
Ibid..
Conf. 9.2.2 (Skut. 181): insanias mendaces et bella forensia.
Conf. 3.5.9 (Skut. 12): dedignabar.
Conf. 9.2.2 (Skut. 181 [Boulding, 210]): “[A]s we climbed up from the valley of weeping

MICHAEL C. MCCARTHY

471

and his companions to the core, while his own lungs failed, his tone became husky,
and he could sustain no vocal effort.93 Before he can speak again, his voice must
be reconstituted, so that he can sing Psalm 26:8: “To you my heart has said, I have
sought your face; your face, O Lord, I seek.”94
While he does not mention Vergil by name, Augustine speaks of the learned
conversation with his companions at Cassiciacum, where regular recitation of the
Aeneid constituted a major part of the day.95 He now desires to serve God, but his
style carries the same academic pretense he had long ago learned in the “school of
pride.”96 His own companion Alypius even regards the name of Christ “unworthy”
(dedignabatur) to be included in the transcript of their dialogues, for “he wanted
them to smell more of the cedars of gymnasia, which the Lord has dashed, than of
the Church’s herbs, bringing health in face of serpents.”97 Reference to gymnasia
suggests schools in which he has trained his tongue, and the cedars of Lebanon (Ps
28:5) reflect the pride God alone can cure with a lowly herbal medicine.
At this point, after books in which he has made hundreds of allusions to Psalm
verses, Augustine turns directly to the Psalms’ therapeutic effect and their general
accessibility to the life of one who prays them.98 In this climactic scene, the voice
of the Psalms heals the tumor of pride Augustine so closely associates with his
rhetorical education. Immediately before noting his baptism, and at nearly the exact
mid-point of the Confessions,99 Augustine exclaims that at Cassiciacum the songs
of David return him to health and provide him with a new voice:
What voices I gave to you, my God, when I read the psalms of David, those
songs of faith, those sounds of devotion which excluded the proud spirit . . .
what voices I gave in those psalms and how I was inflamed with love for you
and burned to recite them, if I could, to the whole world as an antidote for
the pride of the human race.100

Augustine’s repeated stress on “giving voice” to the Psalms not only implies contrast
with his inability to speak from the “professorial chair of lying,” but looks even
further back to his early account of learning to speak, where he threw his limbs
and voice in an attempt to force others to do his bidding.101 Thus we witness here
(Ps 83:7) singing our pilgrim song (Pss 119–133) you had armed us with sharp arrows and burning
coals (Ps 119:3–4), with which to fight the guileful tongues of any who opposed our project while
pretending to promote it.”
93
Conf. 9.2.4 (Skut. 182).
94
Conf. 9.3.6 (Skut. 184).
95
See Contra Academicos 1.5.15; 2.4.10; De Ordine 1.8.26.
96
Conf. 9.4.7 (Skut. 185): superbiae scholam.
97
Conf. 9.4.7 (Skut. 185 [translation mine]).
98
See Sieben, “Der Psalter,” 481–97, who argues that Augustine knew Athanasius’s famous letter.
99
So O’Donnell, 3.91, counting the number of words in the work.
100
Conf. 9.4.8 (Skut. 185 [Boulding, 215]).
101
Conf. 9.2.4 (Skut. 182): cathedra mendacii, alluding to Ps 1:1. On his learning to speak, see
Conf. 1.6.8, 1.8.13.

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the learning of a new speech, or better yet a “re-learning” of speech.102 Whereas
his former voice aimed at effecting his own will and satisfying his own desire for
praise, this new voice “confesses.” It refashions Augustine’s emotions and reorients
them toward the God he had proudly resisted. Augustine burns (inflammabar,
accendebar) to recite the Psalms because they have medicinal power to heal the
entire human race of its inherited pride.103 The universality of the Psalms, moreover,
is commensurate with the strength of God’s appeal: “All throughout the world they
are sung, and there is no one who can hide from your heat (Ps 18:7).”104
Assimilating Psalm 4
In Confessions 9.4.8–12, after making such a strong interjection about the Psalms,
Augustine offers a prolonged reading of Psalm 4 and presents his emotional
history in terms that follow its verses. Other scholars have argued that his exegesis
duplicates the narrative structure of the Confessions as a whole and that his
reading of the psalm before an imagined audience of Manichees has the function
of persuading them to abandon their heresy.105 Without contesting such claims, I
would also argue that the reading represents a radical reorientation of his affective
life by substituting the Aeneid and all it suggests with the Psalms. Unlike his
boyhood exercise in which he fabricated an angry speech with words Juno never
used, the point of reading Psalm 4 is to conform to the emotional pattern elicited
by the scriptural locutions. The psalm begins with a confession of confidence that
God hears when one calls (cum invocarem te, exaudisti me). Unlike the opening of
the Aeneid, where the hero’s first words are a cry of desperation against the cruelty
of the queen of the gods, the psalm is addressed to “the God of my justice” (deus
iustitiae meae).106 Like Aeneas, Augustine finds himself in a moment of trial, but
the divinity invoked in Psalm 4 leads him into spacious freedom (in tribulatione
dilatasti mihi) rather than disastrous straits, and thus Augustine begs for pity: “Have
mercy on me, Lord, and hearken to my prayer.”107
The emotional climate surrounding his reading of Psalm 4 betrays multiple
contrasts with his reading of the Aeneid in Book I of the Confessions. Whereas
102

Sieben, “Der Psalter,” 486.
Conf. 9.4.8 (Skut. 185).
104
Conf. 9.4.8 (Skut. 185 [Boulding, 215]).
105
O’Donnell, 3.91. See also the comment of Brian Stock, Augustine the Reader: Meditation,
Self-Knowledge, and the Ethics of Interpretation (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap/Harvard University
Press, 1996) 115: “The relationship between Psalm 4 and the ‘text’ of [Augustine’s] life is supported
by words and phrases drawn from other psalms. The vocabulary of his recent reading, so rearranged,
is imposed on past experiences, which is in turn reshaped.” On the function of this scene regarding
the Manichees, see Annemaré Kotzé, “Reading Psalm 4 to the Manicheans,” Vigiliae Christianae
55 (2001) 119–36. Also Annemaré Kotzé, Augustine’s Confessions: Communicative Purpose and
Audience (Leiden: Brill, 2004) 97–115.
106
Ps 4:2. Compare Aen. 1.94–101.
107
Conf. 9.4.8 (Skut. 186 [Boulding, 215]): Miserere mei, domine, et exaudi orationem meam
(Ps 4:2).
103

MICHAEL C. MCCARTHY

473

formerly he imitated the wrath of Juno, here he is indignant with the Manichees;108
whereas in Book I he pitied a Dido who did not exist, here he pities real people
with whom he once identified.109 Unlike the empty grief he once felt for tragic stage
events, Augustine’s pain for the Manichees is finally oriented toward their authentic
happiness.110 He is moved with a vehement and bitter grief (vehementi et acri
dolore) because they ignorantly refuse the sacramental medicine of scripture (illa
sacramenta, illa medicamenta), which could make them healthy.111 This insanity of
the Manichees and their myths recalls the mirabilis insania he described in Book
III, where he enjoyed the sorrow that fictional dramas generated in him, while he
did not show the “truer mercy” (verior misericordia) of one who seeks the welfare
and healing of a person in pain.112
Throughout his extended reading, moreover, Augustine wishes to share the
affections generated by the verses of the psalm, yet as a skilled speaker he knows
the liability to duplicity. Hence, he desires that his witnesses be convinced of the
sincerity of his emotion. Before and after his citation of the first line of the psalm,
he says:
I could wish that they had been somewhere nearby, without my knowing it,
and had gazed upon my face and listened to my voice as I read the fourth
psalm in that place of peace. . . . Would that they had heard what these words
of the psalm did to me, but heard without my knowledge, lest they think that
it was for their benefit that I uttered words of my own, interspersed with
yours! I would surely not have spoken, or not in the same vein, had I felt
myself exposed to their ears and eyes; and even if I had, they would not have
taken those words I uttered for what they were, the intimate expression of my
mind, as I conversed with myself and addressed myself in your presence.113

Although it is not clear whether Augustine imagines the Manichee listening to
him read aloud or simply observing him as he reads in silence, the importance he
assigns to his ignorance of another’s presence (me nesciente . . . ignorante me)
stresses the elimination of self-consciousness he has always encountered in using
language. Since his infancy, he communicated with others in an attempt to recover
from the mutual alienation human beings endured after the fall. The employment
of signs, of which language is the most common form, intends to bridge the inner
108

Conf. 9.4.8 (Skut. 186): indignabar manichaeis.
Conf. 9.4.8 (Skut. 186): miserabar eos rursus.
110
See Conf. 3.2.3.
111
Conf. 9.4.8 (Skut. 186).
112
Conf. 3.2.3 (Skut. 38).
113
Conf. 9.4.8 (Skut. 186 [Boulding, 215]): vellem, ut alicubi iuxta essent tunc et me nesciente,
quod ibi essent, intuerentur faciem meam et audirent voces meas, quando legi quartum psalmum
in illo tunc otio, quid de me fecerit ille psalmus . . . audirent ignorante me, utrum audirent, ne me
propter se illa dicere putarent, quae inter haec verba dixerim, quia et re vera nec ea dicerem nec
sic ea dicerem, si me ab eis audiri viderique sentirem, nec si dicerem, sic acciperent, quomodo
mecum et mihi coram te de familiari affectu animi mei.
109

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and outer worlds as well as to persuade the other towards one’s own will.114 Quite
in contrast to the forensic art he teaches young men, then, his face and voice, both
key aspects of an orator’s carriage, are constituted in his reading of Psalm 4 with
no reason to deceive. His speech before God expresses the innermost feelings of
his soul, not the affectus he has learned to convey out of ulterior motives. Even
the words he himself might speak in response to the psalm have an authenticity
derived from their association with the divine word. Scripture has an efficacy that
makes something of him.115
The psalm’s productive power derives largely from its nature as a direct
exchange between God and Augustine. “Your good spirit” addresses him in the
words of Psalm 4:3: “How long will you be heavy hearted, human creatures? Why
love emptiness and chase falsehood?”116 As a result, Augustine’s fear, hope, and
exultation in God’s mercy yield candid expression through his own eyes and voice.
Because he takes this verse as applying directly to his own pursuit of vanity and
lies as a Manichee, he trembles as he hears it. These words “are addressed to the
kind of person I remember myself to have been,”117 yet Augustine hopes his own
reaction as he recollects his former ways may move the presumptive witnesses,
who continue to make the mistakes he did. Recognizing that he once accepted
phantasmata in place of truth, “loud and strong I bewailed many an episode among
my painful memories.”118 Whereas once he identified emotionally with “some
Aeneas” in wanderings that led him away from God, here the tearful remembrance
of past sins is part of a narrative of return formatted by the psalm. Any current
Manichee moved by Augustine’s own lamentation might find in their sympathy for
him a homeopathic cure: “Oh that they could have heard me, those who still love
emptiness and chase falsehood! They might perhaps be so shaken as to spew it out,
and then you would hear them when they cried to you.”119 Augustine implies that
God would hear them because they would now pray through the intercession of
Christ, whom they accept as having had true flesh. For Augustine, confessing this
“real death of the flesh for us” has the opposite effect of indulging in the death of
Dido, as he did in Book I.120

114

Esp. Conf. 1.6.7–8.
Conf. 9.4.8 (Skut. 186): quid de me fecerit ille psalmus.
116
Conf. 9.4.9 (Skut. 186 [Boulding, 215]): filii hominum, quousque graves corde? ut quid
diligitis vanitatem et quaeritis mendacium?
117
Conf. 9.4.9 (Skut. 187 [Boulding, 216]): qualem me fuisse reminiscebar.
118
Conf. 9.4.9 (Skut. 187 [Boulding, 216]): et insonui multa graviter ac fortiter in dolore
recordationis meae.
119
Conf. 9.4.9 (Skut. 187 [Boulding, 216]): quae utinam audissent qui adhuc usque diligunt
vanitatem et quaerunt mendacium : forte conturbarentur et evomuissent illud, et exaudires eos,
cum clamarent ad te.
120
Conf. 9.4.9 (Skut. 187): vera morte carnis . . . pro nobis.
115

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475

Augustine continues to read the psalm (legebam), whose next verse commands
him “Let your anger deter you from sin.”121 His avowal of being stirred by the verse
(quomodo movebar) points again to the Psalms’ power to arouse the emotions,
but unlike other feelings of rage he has suffered, this anger is acceptable because
it contributes to the correction of a sinner.122 Thus it is a “fitting anger” (merito
irasci), unlike any he felt as a Manichee, when he regarded sin as the product of
an alien nature rather than a result of his own will.123 Even before his association
with the Manichees, he had learned to be angry for the wrong reasons, because
his affections had been tied to self-centered patterns of communication. He was
enraged, for instance, when his elders did not fulfill his interior desires and when
his fellow nursling enjoyed the milk he desired for himself.124 He imitated Juno’s
anger with the intention of securing his own praise.125 Augustine’s anger with
himself over past sins recapitulates much of the content of the Confession, but the
succeeding verses of the psalm move him from anger to a new kind of interior joy.
No longer does he seek pleasures “by carnal eyes in the sunlight,” and he expresses
his sympathy for those who “lick even the images of these things with their famished
imagination.”126 He wishes they would feel as he feels, and he imagines a dialogue
in which he answers questions in the words of the psalm itself:
If only they would weary of their starvation and ask, “Who will show us
good things?” (Ps 4:6). Let us answer them, and let them hear the truth: “The
light of your countenance has set its seal upon us, O Lord” (Ps 4:7). We are
not ourselves that Light which illumines every human being, but by you we
are illumined, so that we who were once darkness may become light in you.
Ah, if only they could see the eternal reality within! I had tasted it, and was
frantic at my inability to show it to them; if only they would bring to me
those hearts of theirs which lived in their outward-gazing eyes, outside and
away from you; if only they would say, “Who will show us good things?”127

121

Conf. 9.4.10 (Skut 187 [Boulding, 216]), quoting Ps 4:5: irascimini et nolite peccare.
See Augustine, Civ. 9.5. Anger, Augustine notes, is an acceptable emotion when it is felt
toward a sinner who needs correction. “In our discipline, the question is not whether the devout
soul is angry, but why.” As in Augustine, City of God (trans. Henry Bettenson; London: Penguin,
1984) 349.
123
Conf. 9.4.10 (Skut. 187).
124
Conf. 1.6.8 (Skut. 6): indignabar non subditis maioribus et liberis non servientibus. Also
1.7.11.
125
Conf. 1.17.27 (Skut. 21).
126
Conf. 9.4.10 (Skut. 188 [Boulding, 216]): et imagines eorum famelica cogitatione
lambiunt.
127
Conf. 9.4.10 (Skut. 188 [Boulding, 216–217]): O si fatigentur inedia et dicant : quis ostendet
nobis bona ? et dicamus, et audiant : signatum est in nobis lumen vultus tui, domine. Non enim
lumen nos sumus, quod inluminat omnem hominem, sed inluminamur a te, ut, qui fuimus aliquando
tenebrae, simus in te. O si viderent internum aeternum, quod ego quia gustaveram, frendebam,
quoniam non eis poteram ostendere, si affererent ad me cor in oculis suis foris at te et dicerent
quis ostendit nobis bona?
122

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Even with his education in rhetoric, Augustine does not have the power to lead
others away from their own alienation. Somehow they must recognize their own
interior fashioning after the light of God’s countenance.
On the other hand, throughout his reading of Psalm 4, Augustine reaffirms the
power of affective assimilation. He hopes that, by witnessing the depth of his own
emotions, others may move toward conversion, just as he himself burned at the
example of Marius Victorinus and the officials at Trier. When Augustine heard the
story of the officials’ emotional reading the Life of Anthony, he was wrenched back
toward himself and set before his own face.128 So too he hopes that Manichees and
other readers of the Confessions may see themselves in Augustine’s narrative and
be turned by the progression of emotions that he recounts, in the words of Psalm 4,
from his anger with himself (Ps 4:5a), to his compunction and sorrow (4:5b), and
finally, after sacrificing himself (4:6), to joy in his heart (4:7). Images of physical
location and sensation point to the spiritual sensitivity Augustine slowly cultivated
throughout the narrative. Thus “you began to make me feel your sweetness.”129
Because it is the Word of God, he suggests, the experience of reading the psalm
heals the gap he had long hoped, through language, to bridge between his interior
and exterior worlds: “As I read these words outwardly and experienced their truth
inwardly I shouted with joy, and lost my desire to dissipate myself amid a profusion
of earthly goods, eating up time as I was myself eaten by it; for in your eternal
simplicity I now had a different “wheat and wine and oil” (Ps 4:8).130
After acknowledging his new sustenance, he exclaims “with the deep cry of
my heart” (clamore alto cordis mei) the penultimate verse of the psalm: “In peace!
Oh, In Being itself! What did it say? I will rest and fall asleep” (Ps. 4:9).131 The
line suggests the eschatological goal sought by all human hearts, and it introduces
a common Augustinian reflection: that God is Being itself, the immutable source
and fulfillment of human desire. As in the beginning of the Confessions, Augustine
stresses that in the end there is nothing besides God in which one may find rest:
“nor . . . with striving for a host of other things that are not what you are, rather
it is you, ‘you, Lord, who through hope establish me in unity’” (Ps. 4:10).132 The
initial invocation to the God of justice, therefore, culminates in a confession that
one can be grounded and find personal coherence in God alone. No sooner does
Augustine quote the final verse of Psalm 4 than he comments that, for all his passion
for what he is reading, he himself can find nothing to do for those “deaf dead folk”
128

Conf. 8.7.16.
Conf. 9.4.10 (Skut. 188 [Boulding, 217]): mihi dulcescere coeperas.
130
Conf. 9.4.10 (Skut. 188 [Boulding, 217]): Et exclamabam legens haec foris et agnoscens intus
nec volebam multiplicari terrenis bonis devorans tempora et devoratus temporibus, cum haberem
in aeterna simplicitate aliud frumentum et vinum et oleum.
131
Conf. 9.4.11 (Skut. 188–189 [Boulding, 216–17]): o in pace! o in id ipsum! o quid dixit:
obdormiam et somnum capiam!
132
Conf. 9.4.11 (Skut. 188–89 [Boulding, 217]) nec ad alia multa adipiscenda, quae non sunt
quod tu, sed tu, domine, singulariter in spe constituisti me.
129

MICHAEL C. MCCARTHY

477

insensitive to his emotion.133 Although he can do nothing for them, his own reading
of the psalm marks his own conversion from a time when he bitterly and blindly
barked against honey-sweet scripture.134
Immediately after this reading of Psalm 4, Augustine describes a toothache
so grave that he cannot even speak. No longer a “word-peddler,” he can hardly
breathe.135 Once he is baptized, however, he finds his healing once again in the
“singing church”: “Those voices flooded my ears, and the truth was still distilled
into my heart until it overflowed in loving devotion; my tears ran down, and I was
the better for them.”136 Such wholesome tears are the result of an affectus pietatis
generated by the recitation of hymns and psalms in nearly all parts of the earth.
This new affect differs vastly from that which made him weep over Dido, and it
endures through the end of Book IX, when a final allusion to Vergil occurs. As we
have already seen, Augustine’s and Monica’s “vision” at Ostia resembles Aeneas’s
and Anchises’s encounter in the underworld. The Vergilian scene was well known
from theater as well as from the epic poem itself.137 In spite of the literary parallels
between the two scenes, including the setting in a garden, the context of a journey,
and even the name of Ostia itself, the texture of Augustine’s ascent is far more like
his reading of Psalm 4 than it is like Vergil’s depiction of the descent.138 The speech
intimates the unending Word of God precisely through a thick set of allusions to
scripture, especially the Psalms.
When Monica herself dies, the Vergilian models of mourning appear to be
replaced by a simple recitation of Psalm 100.139 Yet Augustine still manifests traces
of old emotions, and as therapeutic as his readings of the Psalms are, he remains
emotionally conflicted to the end. The wounds he feels at the death of his mother
are so great that he weeps for nearly an hour, and with some embarrassment he
explains that he has been habituated to “carnal affection.”140 Furthermore, even
the singing of Psalms can present temptation. While acknowledging that souls are
more “ardently enflamed with piety” when scriptural words are sung rather than
spoken, he also admits that the sensuous gratification of music can itself become
the focus of his desire rather than the Word of God.141 Recalling how he wept
when he first heard the Psalms being sung, he notes that Athanasius allowed only
133

Conf. 9.4.11 (Skut. 189 [Boulding, 217]): surdis mortuis.
Conf. 9.4.11 (Skut. 189 [Boulding, 217]).
135
Conf. 9.4.12.
136
Conf. 9.6.14 (Skut. 191 [Boulding, 220]): voces illae influebant auribus meis et eliquabatur
veritas in cor meum et exaestuabat inde affectus pietatis, et currebant lacrimae, et bene mihi erat
cum eis.
137
See Augustine, Serm. 374.2.
138
On the parallels, see O’Donnell 3.124.
139
Conf. 9.12.31.
140
Conf. 9.13.34 (Skut. 206 [Boulding, 233]): carnalis affectus.
141
Conf. 10.33.49 (Skut. 246 [Boulding, 270]): ardentius sentio moveri animos nostros in
flammam pietatis, cum ita cantantur quam si non ita cantarentur.
134

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a slight inflection of voice, so that the words of the Psalter seemed proclaimed
rather than chanted.142 Though he claims to be moved more by substance than
sound (non cantu sed rebus), this final passage relating the effect of the Psalms
points to his continuing liability to be overwhelmed by the sweetness of music.143
In this respect, the bishop still shows some affinity with the boy who once wept
for Dido because the literary form was itself so moving. Still, in the context of the
Confessions, Augustine looks to his reader for authentic compassion he did not
know then: “Such is my condition: weep with me, and weep for me, you who feel
within yourselves that goodness from which kind actions spring!”144

■ Conclusion
Two and a half centuries after the young Augustine studied rhetoric, the Psalms had
replaced Vergil as the literary authority to be emulated. A very new paideia had
emerged. One early seventh-century Irish schoolboy dropped into the bog a set of
his notebooks in which we can still read verses he inscribed from Psalms 30–32.145
By 787 the full ecumenical authority of the Second Council of Nicea decreed that
every bishop should have a complete knowledge of the Psalter.146 In the Confessions,
however, we witness an uneasy moment of transition and cultural tension. The
Confessions reflects a literary space in which ancient Roman classics intermingle
with the new Christian classics yet compete, as it were, for Augustine’s soul and
affections. Precisely within this dynamic state of competition Augustine comes to
develop his own voice. This process is what the literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin
calls “ideological becoming,” which includes “selectively assimilating the words
of others.”147 Such assimilation is far from being unproblematic, since another’s
discourse aims not merely to be source of information and rules but “strives rather
to determine the very bases of our ideological interrelations with the world, the
very basis of our behavior.”148 Vergil’s Aeneid and David’s Psalter, therefore, both
aim, in such different ways, not only to dominate Augustine’s own discourse but
to format the way he sees and interacts with the world.

142

Conf. 10.33.50 (Skut. 246).
Conf. 10.33.50 (Skut. 247).
144
Conf. 10.33.50 (Skut. 247 [Boulding, 270]): ecce ubi sum! Flete mecum et pro me flete qui
aliquid boni vobiscum intus agitis, unde facta procedunt.
145
Peter Brown, The Rise of Western Christendom (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996) 5. See description
of the tablets by Michelle Brown, The Making of England: Anglo Saxon Art and Culture AD 600–900
(ed. L. Webster and J. Backhouse; Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991) 80–81.
146
Canon 2, Second Council of Nicea, in Norman Tanner, Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils
(Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 1990) 139. On the importance of the Psalms in the
Middle Ages, see Pierre Riché, Education and Culture in the Barbarian West: Sixth through Eighth
Centuries (trans. J. Contreni; Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1975) 173.
147
Bakhtin, Dialogic Imagination, 341.
148
Ibid., 342.
143

MICHAEL C. MCCARTHY

479

As the consummate rhetor, however, Augustine is always keenly interested in the
power of discourses not only to evoke various affections but to give them meaning.
Emotions, as movements of the will, have their own patterns of intelligence.
Augustine weeps at the story of Aeneas and Dido, and he weeps as he hears the
Psalms. In the former case, however, the trials he bemoans are of no consequence,
whereas in the latter case the trials are his own. They are the very pith of his work,
and he invites the reader to weep over him. Such wholesome sharing of emotions
is a central feature of his mature theology of the Psalter, in which Augustine states
that the Psalms are the vox totius Christi, the voice of the whole Christ. The voice
of Christ’s body, the church, that is, assimilates with that of the head, who assumed
humanity in the Incarnation, so as to become one voice. The patterns of affection in
the Psalms, therefore, reconfigure us into the person of Christ, and thus Augustine
urges us to feel with the Psalms.149 In the Confessions, however, diverging and
unresolved emotions remain part of the conflict central to the movement of the
narrative. The reader is invited to feel authentic compassion for Augustine in a
way that he himself could never feel for Dido. He suggests that, to people who
read the Confessions with proper affections, Augustine’s own tensions will be
the source of tears. He prays to God: “Do not, I entreat you, do not abandon your
unfinished work, but bring to perfection all that is wanting in me.” Yet he does so
with a community that will both sigh with relief as well as lament with him. “Let
it be a brotherly mind,” he says, “which when it approves of me will rejoice over
me, and when it disapproves will be saddened on my account, because whether it
approves or disapproves it still loves me.”150

149
Augustine articulates his theology of the Psalter in multiple places. See, for instance, Ennarat.
Ps. 37.6 (CCL 38.386–387). For an example of affective imitation of the psalms, see Enarrat. Ps.
30(2)s.3.1 (CCL 38.213). A magisterial study of all aspects of Augustine’s commentary on the
psalms is Michael Fiedrowicz, Psalmus Vox Totius Christi: Studien zu Augustins «Enarrationes in
Psalmos» (Freiburg: Herder, 1997).
150
Conf. 10.4.5 (Skut. 212 [Boulding, 240]).

An Ancient List of Christian Festivals
in Toledot Yeshu: Polemics as Indication
for Interaction*
Daniel Stökl Ben Ezra
Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique
and Université Aix-Marseille
To John Gager

Calendars, liturgy, and especially festivals offer a convenient vantage point from
which to analyze collective identities. They can provide access to group mentalities
rather than to the ideas of individual intellectuals, which are often more or less
confined to ivory towers.1 Ritual addresses the whole human being—the intellect,
* The organizers of several academic gatherings kindly provided me with opportunities to present
some of the ideas published here to learned critics. These gatherings include a conference on Jewish
and Christian liturgies in Aachen; the 2006 meeting of the North American Academy of Liturgy in San
Diego; a conference on Jewish and Christian interaction at Bar Ilan; and a workshop at the EPHE in
Paris in 2007. The arguments presented here owe much to the illustrious participants in these events.
In particular, I would like to express my deep gratitude to Michael Kohlbacher, whose detailed and
erudite suggestions greatly enhanced my interpretation and direction. In addition, Harald Buchinger, John
Gager, Clemens Leonhard, Basil Lourie, Günter Stemberger, Guy Stroumsa, Katja Vehlow, and Israel
Yuval made very valuable comments on previous versions. The Bibliothèque nationale et universitaire
of Strasbroug graciously permitted me to check the readings on the original manuscript and provided
me with photos. Moshe Levi most helpfully checked some manuscript microfilms at the National
Library for variae lectiones. An anonymous reviewer has led me to clarify certain presuppositions. I
am most grateful to the team at HTR for their careful copyediting.
1
Of the vast literature on this subject, I will mention pars pro toto the particularly good article by
Jan Assmann, “Der zweidimensionale Mensch. Das Fest als Medium des kollektiven Gedächtnisses,”
in Das Fest und das Heilige. Religiöse Kontrapunkte zur Alltagswelt (ed. idem; Studien zum Verstehen
fremder Religionen 1; Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 1991) 13–30; as well as Christoph Auffarth,
“Feste als Medium antiker Religionen. Methodische Konzeptionen zur Erforschung komplexer
Rituale,” in Zwischen Krise und Alltag. Antike Religionen im Mittelmeerraum / Conflit et normalité.
Religions anciennes dans l‘espace méditerranéen (ed. Christophe Batsch, Ulrike Engelhaaf-Gaiser,
and Ruth Stepper; Potsdamer altertumswissenschaftliche Beiträge 1; Stuttgart: Steiner, 1999) 31–42;
and Alessandro Falassi, “Festival: Definition and Morphology,” in Time out of Time: Essays on the
Festival (ed. idem; Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1967) 1–10. Noteworthy books
HTR 102:4 (2009) 481–96

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emotions, and body—and it does so by establishing and defining relations between
the individual, his or her in-group, and the out-group.2 Every collective identity
is formed and reformed in a continuous process encompassing exchange with,
as well as distinction from, other possible collective identities.3 Sometimes, this
construction of a “we” in distinction from “them” is explicit, while at other times
it takes place in a more clandestine and encrypted fashion.
Explicit polemics form the starting point of the present contribution to this
discussion. It is important to keep in mind, however, that the existence of explicit
polemics does not negate the possibility of other, friendlier interactions occurring
simultaneously. Far from it! As the famous example of Chrysostom demonstrates,
polemics (by some members of group A against group B and/or other members of
group A) may be an indication of too much “friendly” interaction (between other
members of group A and members of group B).
In recent years several studies have been written on Christian-Jewish relations that
focus on festivals. There is, for one, the groundbreaking, brilliant, and controversial
investigation of Passover by Israel Yuval.4 Clemens Leonhard recently published
an equally provocative book on the same festival,5 and Elliot Horowitz another
one on Purim.6 The present author tried to break some new ground with a book on
Yom Kippur in late antique Judaism and Christianity.7 Gerard Rouwhorst tried to
disentangle the development of early Christian and Jewish Pentecost traditions.8
include Jörg Rüpke, Kalender und Öffentlichkeit. Die Geschichte der Repräsentation und religiösen
Qualifikation von Zeit in Rom (Religionsgeschichtliche Versuche und Vorarbeiten 40; Berlin: de
Gruyter, 1995); and Sacha Stern, Calendar and Community: A History of the Jewish Calendar 2nd
Century B.C.E.–10th Century C.E. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).
2
See, for example, Catherine Bell, Ritual: Perspectives and Dimensions (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1997); and eadem, Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 1992).
3
Henri Tajfel, “Social Categorization, Social Identity and Social Comparison,” in Differentiation
between Social Groups: Studies in the Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations (ed. idem; London:
Academic Press, 1978) 61–76; Gerd Baumann, “Ritual Implicates ‘Others’: Rereading Durkheim
in a Plural Society,” in Understanding Rituals (ed. Daniel de Coppet; London: Routledge, 1992)
97–116.
4
Israel Yuval, Two Nations in Your Womb: Perceptions of Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity
and the Middle Ages ([Hebrew] Tel Aviv: Am Oved, 2000; trans. [English]; Berkeley: University
of California Press, 2006).
5
Clemens Leonhard, The Jewish Pesach and the Origins of the Christian Easter: Open Questions
in Current Research (Studia Judaica 35; Berlin: de Gruyter, 2006).
6
Elliott Horowitz, Reckless Rites: Purim and the Legacy of Jewish Violence (Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 2006).
7
Daniel Stökl Ben Ezra, The Impact of Yom Kippur on Early Christianity: The Day of Atonement
from Second Temple Judaism to the Fifth Century (WUNT 163; Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 2003).
8
Gerard Rouwhorst, “The Origins and Evolution of Early Christian Pentecost,” Studia Patristica
35 (2001) 309–22; cf. Daniel Stökl Ben Ezra, “Parody and Polemics on Pentecost: Talmud Yerushalmi
Pesahim on Acts 2?” in Jewish and Christian Liturgy and Worship: New Insights into its History
and Interaction (ed. Albert Gerhards and Clemens Leonhard; Jewish and Christian Perspectives
15; Leiden: Brill, 2007) 279–93.

DANIEL STÖKL BEN EZRA

483

Joshua Schwartz investigated connections between Sukkot/Hanukka and Encainia
(the dedication week of the Holy Sepulcher celebrated in September)9—to cite
just a few examples.10
Two approaches emerge from these studies. The “maximalist” approach tries to
extrapolate and reconstruct supposedly lost chapters of the early Jewish-Christian
dialogue by juxtaposing Rabbinic passages with Christian sources, neither of which
mentions the other religion explicitly. Israel Yuval is arguably one of the leading
maximalists.11 The “minimalist” approach, on the other hand, tries to “explain
away” even the relatively few explicit statements or to date them as late as possible.
An excellent example is the work of Johann Maier.12 Many of the methodological
discussions in studies of this kind suggest the existence of a hidden transcript13
in early Rabbinic sources. Frequently, this controversy is closely associated with
a predilection of the opposing sides to date Jewish reactions to Christianity very
early (i.e., to the Tannaitic period), or late (i.e., to the Amoraic period or even later),
respectively. The growing distance from the Shoah and a greater experience with
intra- and extra-Jewish polemics in the modern state of Israel may also influence
many scholars’ perspectives.
This conundrum is particularly vexing with regard to Christian festivals. Unlike
pagan festivals, none of the central Christian liturgical events seem to be mentioned
explicitly in Jewish sources from pre-Islamic times. Minimalists may consequently
question whether Jews of this period knew anything at all about Christian festivals
and/or whether festivals were important enough (or regarded as important enough)
to be subject to reactions by Jews. However, the very absence of explicit early
Jewish references to Christian festival traditions may be a misperception. An explicit
reference is found in some recensions of Toledot Yeshu, and it is my contention
that this tradition is in fact of pre-Islamic origin.
Toledot Yeshu is a kind of Jewish anti-Christian romance or anti-Gospel, which
has had a very prolific history down to modern times.14 Over 100 manuscripts exist
9
Joshua Schwartz, “The Encaenia of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Temple of Solomon
and the Jews,” ThZ 43 (1987) 265–81.
10
See also the highly interesting work of Stephane Verhelst, “La liturgie de Jérusalem à l’époque
byzantine. Genèse et structures de l’année liturgique” (Ph.D. diss., The Hebrew University of Jerusalem,
1999); and idem, “Le 15 Août, le 9 Av et le Kathisme,” Questions Liturgiques 82 (1987) 167–69.
11
Yuval, Two Nations in Your Womb. See also Peter Schäfer, Jesus in the Talmud (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 2007); and Stökl Ben Ezra, “Parody and Polemics on Pentecost.”
12
Johann Maier, Jesus von Nazareth in der talmudischen Überlieferung (Erträge der Forschung
82; Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1978). See also Leonhard, The Jewish Pesach
and the Origins of the Christian Easter.
13
For this term see James Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance: The Hidden Transcript
of Subordinate Groups (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990).
14
For the history of this impact, see Yaakov Deutsch, “Toledot Yeshu in Christian Eyes” (M.A.
diss. [Hebrew]; The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1997); Riccardo Di Segni, “La tradizione
testuale delle Toledoth Jeshu. Manoscritti, edizioni a stampa classificazione,” Rassegna Mensile di
Israel 50 (1984) 83–100; idem, Il Vangelo del Ghetto (Rome: Newton Compton, 1985); William
Horbury, “A Critical Examination of the Toledoth Jeshu” (Ph.D. diss., Cambridge University, 1970);

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in various languages: Aramaic, Hebrew, Judeo-Arabic, Jewish-Persian, Yiddish,
Spanish, Ladino, and German.15 This book was a worldwide bestseller, at least
unofficially.16 However, almost all manuscripts of Toledot Yeshu are late medieval
or modern and some details are indeed best explained as medieval or even modern
motifs.17 Other traditions, on the other hand, appear already in the second and third
centuries C.E.18 This discrepancy has led to considerable controversy concerning the
age of the work. Do the late antique traditions prove the existence of a full-fledged
anti-Gospel prior to the rise of Islam, or are they unconnected polemical fragments?
Questions of dating are further complicated by the numerous recensions and rather
complex literary development of the work.19
The anti-Gospel or first part of Toledot Yeshu usually opens with an account of
Jesus’ not-so-miraculous and not-quite-virginal conception (S1, V1, Y1a)20 and
George Howard, “A Primitive Hebrew Gospel of Matthew and the Tol’doth Yeshu,” New Testament
Studies 34 (1988) 60–70; Samuel Krauss, Das Leben Jesu nach jüdischen Quellen (Berlin: S.
Cavalry, 1902; repr., Hildesheim: Olms, 1994); idem and William Horbury, The Jewish-Christian
Controversy from the Earliest Times to 1789. Volume 1: History (ed. and rev. William Horbury;
Texts and Studies in Ancient Judaism 56; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1996); Hillel Newman, “The
Death of Jesus in the Toledot Yeshu Literature,” JTS 50 (1999) 59–79.
15
For a list, see Di Segni, Il vangelo del Ghetto, 225–31.
16
A further indication of the widespread and far-reaching influence of the polemic is the great
variety of scripts that come from practically all areas of medieval Judaism: Ashkenazi, Oriental,
Yemenite, Persian, and Italian. Some are even attributed to Karaites (Di Segni, Il vangelo del
Ghetto, 33).
17
The earliest manuscripts are a number of very fragmentary Aramaic copies from the Geniza,
perhaps from the eleventh century. See Daniel Boyarin, “A Corrected Reading of the New ‘History
of Jesus’ Fragment,” Tarbiz 47 (1978) 249–52 [Hebrew]; and Yaakov Deutsch, “New Evidence of
Early Versions of Toledot Yeshu,” Tarbiz 69 (2000) 177–97 [Hebrew]. The full narrative is first
attested in a Christian reaction to it by Agobard in ninth century Lyons. See Agobard (d. 840),
De iudaicis superstitionibus et erroribus 10: PL 104 :77–100 = MGH Ep. V :185–99; see also the
Epistula contra Iudaeos of Agobard’s successor Amulo (d. 852): PL 116 :141–84.
18
Newman, “The Death of Jesus”; Horbury, “A Critical Examination of the Toledoth Jeshu.”
19
Classification of the recensions of Toledot Yeshu is a topic worthy of research in itself. See
the useful introduction to Newman’s fascinating article, “The Death of Jesus.” One of the more
recent attempts at classification is the detailed study by Di Segni (“La tradizione testuale delle
Toledoth Jeshu,” in Il vangelo del Ghetto, 29–42 and 216–19). Di Segni distinguishes between
three primary recensions named according to the protagonist supervising the trial of Jesus: Pilate,
Queen Helena, and Herod. Di Segni regards the Pilate group represented by the Aramaic Geniza
fragments, Agobard, and Amulo as the earliest recension.
20
S= MS Strasbourg, bibliothèque nationale et universitaire, MS 3974 (Héb. 48) pages 170–75
(Krauss, Das Leben Jesu, Heb. 38–50; Germ. 50–64), V= MS Vienna, now lost, olim Vienna,
Israelitische Theologische Lehranstalt, Cod. Heb. 54 (ibid., Heb. 64–88; Germ. 88–117), Y= MS
Yemen, now lost, olim private collection of E. Alder, London (ibid., Heb. 118–21; Germ. 122–28);
B= MS Bodleiana, Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Rawl. Or. 37. I use the same sigla as Krauss with
the exception of MS Yemen that Krauss abbreviates A. The numbers following the sigla indicate
sections. In addition I use, L= London, Sassoon Library 793, pages 359–65; and J= Jerusalem,
National Library 8º 864, folia 80v–85r. Di Segni, Il vangelo del Ghetto, 225–31, uses sigla Je12
for Jerusalem, *K2 for Vienna, *K1 for Yemen, LoS2 for Sassoon, Ox5 for Bodleiana and St for
Strasbourg. Krauss (ibid., 27–37) classifies S and Y as Wagenseil type (Di Segni: Elena-primo), V

DANIEL STÖKL BEN EZRA

485

his education as a young man (S2, V2–4, Y1b). It continues with Jesus’ theft of
the divine name, which enabled him to perform miracles in Jerusalem and Galilee
(S3–4, V5-6, Y2–3). As in the canonical Gospels, Jesus’ arrest and death and stories
about what happened to his body occupy a considerable portion of the plot (S5–8,
V7–15, Y4–11).
In many manuscripts—all of them belonging to the recensions called Helena and
Herod—this anti-Gospel is succeeded by anti-Acts.21 In fact, the Helena-recension
is the most widespread version of Toledot Yeshu.22 Though “unattested before the
thirteenth century,” the Helena group has been characterized as “patently making
use of earlier materials.”23 As we shall see, the list of Christian festivals appears
only here.
While anti-Acts varies considerably from one manuscript to another, one common
version can be summarized as follows: After Jesus’ death, the twelve apostles are
dispersed in various countries where their activities within the Jewish communities
cause confusion and violent fights (S9, V16, Y12a). The Jewish leaders decide to
resolve this chaotic situation by sending Eliyahu alias Paul (in other recensions,
Peter) as a “mole” or double agent in order to lead the Jesus-followers to complete
separation from Judaism. Eliyahu achieves this aim by introducing a new festival
calendar, abolishing circumcision and kashrut, and preaching Sermon on the Mount
ethics (S10, V17–19, Y12b). The protagonist of the next section is Nestorius, who
in direct opposition to Paul’s / Eliyahu’s teachings calls on the Christians to return
to the Torah and circumcision, emphasizes Christ’s manhood, and demands the
abolition of bigamy. Nestorius is eventually killed by a crowd of furious Christian
women (S11, V20). The final section focuses on Simon Kephas, the president of
the (Jewish) Sanhedrin who is forced to convert to Christianity under the threat of
total annihilation of all Jews. He accepts under the condition of being allowed to
live secluded in a tower in order to protect his purity. Here he composes central
pieces of Jewish synagogal poetry (S12, V21). A few manuscripts add an account
of the discovery of the True Cross (V22).24
These various versions of anti-Acts cast light on an ancient Jewish perspective on
the parting of the ways. The considerable space and detail given to the question of
the development of an independent Christian festival calendar suggests that it was
as de Rossi (Di Segni: Elena-Italiano). The birth account is absent from the earliest witness to the
Helena recension, Raimundo Martini (Di Segni, Il vangelo del Ghetto, 33) and from the “Pilate”
recension of the Geniza fragments and Ibn Shaprut (Deutsch, “New Evidence,” 178).
21
On this part, see Di Segni, Il vangelo del Ghetto, 203–15; Simon Légasse, “La légende
juive des Apôtres et les rapports judéo-chrétiens dans le haut Moyen Age,” Bulletin de Littérature
Ecclésiastique 75 (1974) 99–132; and idem, “La légende juive des Apôtres et les rapports judéochrétiens dans le Moyen Age occidental,” Yearbook of the Ecumenical Institute for Advanced
Theological Studies, 1974/75: 121–39.
22
Di Segni subdivides it into four branches: primo, italiano, Wagenseil and Slavo (Il vangelo
del Ghetto, 31–40).
23
Newman, “The Death of Jesus,” 60.
24
Krauss, Das Leben Jesu, 141–43.

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of considerable importance to the Jewish authors, redactors, copyists, and readers
of this tractate to distinguish the Christian festivals from their all-too-similar Jewish
counterparts. In addition, we may observe that the Christian calendar is given an
extremely early origin. The radical decision to break with the old and create a new
festival calendar is attributed to Jesus himself, at least by Elijah (Paul). This can
be seen as another sign of the fundamental importance attributed to festivals and
rites for the establishment of an identity.25
Yet how old is anti-Acts? Simon Légasse suggests that anti-Acts is an addition
postdating the ninth century.26 Central motifs from the anti-Gospel are repeated
(such as the theft of the holy name) and the basic aim of the plot has changed from
a depreciation of Jesus to a story about the separation of Judaism and Christianity.
As we shall see, neither argument is sufficiently strong. Di Segni deduces from the
attribution to Peter of the composition of liturgical hymns or piyyutim—a genre
that according to him first appeared after the sixth century—and from the presence
of Eleazar HaQallir (floruit sixth/seventh century) a terminus post quem for the
Peter section.27 However, the beginnings of the Jewish piyyut genre are certainly
earlier, in the fourth or fifth century at the latest.28
Other scholars note that some elements appearing in other sections of anti-Acts
seem to point to a late-antique Syrian milieu. Already Samuel Krauss deduced from
the existence of some Aramaic phrases in the otherwise Hebrew text that antiActs enshrines old traditions.29 Some words are indeed unattested in Palestinian
Jewish Aramaic but do exist in Syriac.30 The depiction of Simon Peter sitting
alone in a tower has long been compared to that of Simeon Stylites.31 Nestorius,
the propagandist of the third section of Toledot Yeshu (who has almost nothing
in common with the theologian of the mid-fifth century) has been regarded as a
caricature of Barsauma of Nisibis of the fifth century.32 In what follows, I shall
25

In contrast, I. Troki claims that Sunday was introduced (by the pope) only 500 years after
Jesus’ death (Krauss, Das Leben Jesu, 271).
26
Légasse, “La légende juive . . . dans le haut Moyen Age,” 101.
27
Di Segni, Il vangelo del Ghetto, 209. A more recent investigation of Peter in Jewish sources is
Wout van Bekkum, “‘The Rock on which the Church is Founded’: Simon Peter in Jewish Folktale,”
in Saints and Role Models in Judaism and Christianity (ed. Marcel Poorthuis and Joshua Schwartz;
Jewish and Christian Perspectives 7; Leiden: Brill, 2004) 289–310.
28
Aharon Mirsky, Yosse ben Yosse Poems (Jerusalem: Mossad Bialik, 1991 [Hebrew]); Joseph
Yahalom, Priestly Palestinian Poetry: A Narrative Liturgy for the Day of Atonement (Jerusalem:
Magnes, 1996 [Hebrew]).
29
Samuel Krauss, “Neuere Ansichten über ‘Toledoth Jeschu’” MGWJ 77 (1933) 44–61, esp.
46–47.
30
E.g., EXQ]]U for ‘Resurrection’ and EUP[W for ‘Ascension.’ See M. Sokoloff, A Dictionary of
Jewish Palestinian Aramaic (Ramat Gan: Bar Ilan University Press, 1992) and R. Payne Smith’s
Thesaurus Syriacus (2 vols.; Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1879–1901) 2:2210 and 2649.
31
Samuel Krauss, “The Mount of Olives in ‘Toldoth Jesu,’” Zion 4 (1939) 170–76 [Hebrew],
at 170.
32
Stephen Gerö, “The Nestorius Legend in the Toledoth Yeshu,” OrChr 59 (1975) 108–20.

DANIEL STÖKL BEN EZRA

487

advance further arguments that firmly contextualize the list of festivals from the
Eliyahu/Paul section of anti-Acts in late antiquity. The passage appears in a speech
given by Elijah alias Paul to the Christian Jews:
Jesus said to you: Everybody in my possession shall desecrate the Sabbath
that already the Holy One may he be blessed hated and keep the First Day
[Sunday] instead, since on this day the Holy One may he be blessed enlightened his world;
and for [the days of] Passover, which Israel keeps, make them into the festival of the Resurrection (EXQ]]UHLH?[Q),33 since on this [day] he rose from
his tomb;
and for Shavuot (EXV\?)34 Ascension (EUP[W)35, and this is the day on which
he ascended to heaven;
and for Rosh Hashanah the Passing Away / Invention of the Cross
(EF]P\HEXNOpE / EXFOpE)36;
and for the Great Fast37 the Circumcision (EXV[^K)38;
and for Chanukkah Kalendae.39

Samuel Krauss regarded the list of festivals as confused or imprecise:40 “The Jewish
narrator did not have to have a Christian calendar before his eyes, neither did he
want to inquire.”41 At first glance, the confusion does indeed seem quite substantial:
Shavuot is compared to the Feast of Ascension instead of Pentecost; Rosh Hashanah
is compared to the Invention of the Cross (observed in May according to Krauss);
Yom Kippur is associated with the circumcision of Christ usually celebrated on
33
According to a “better” manuscript mentioned by Krauss (“Neuere Ansichten,” 47). MS B
reads NWT.
34
B: Shavuot.
35
B: Pfingsten. Accoding to L and J, (every) Sunday, the ascension is celebrated. These manuscripts
are important as they give the festival names in Aramaic but compared to S their readings are clearly
secondary corrections.
36
S reads EXFOpE(lying down, death, funeral sermon), cf. L (EFPHEX]FOpE) and J (EFPHEX]F]OpE)
which are clearly misreadings. On Krauss’s emendation to EXNOpE(finding), see below. MS B reads
“gefunden das Holz” (in Yiddish).
37
B: Yom Kippur.
38
B: PQ gewest. L and J read ER]HV^K (judgment), again a secondary improvement using a known
expression which does not make sense in a liturgical context. But see below for an explanation for
reading “Indiction” here.
39
B: Tomis. L and J: EXpPO(every year). The full text of S reads:
[F]O[]XNXÚ[pEV˜[]V[Qp][L"F"U"L[X[EERpVFOpXFpLPPN]]XU^NFL]L]p]QPO˜OPVQE[p]
[VFUQ[FHQ?pEXQ]]UH[LH?[Q:[E]LH?˜X[E[p?PEVp]Ú]p[?pNWTP]FpF[[QP[?L"FULV]EL

EFVEQ[\P]FpF[EF]P\HEXNOpELRpLpEVP]FpF[˜]QpF[FLP?p˜[]E[L[EUP[WEXV\?P]FpF[
EHRPULO[RNP]FpF[EXV[^K. (MS Strasbourg according to Krauss, Das Leben Jesu, 48 with the lect.
var. according to the article mentioned in the previous footnotes [translation mine]).
40
Krauss, Das Leben Jesu, 271–72: “Der Wortlaut des Toldoth ist zwar Kreuzauffindung, aber
solche Ungenauigkeiten müssen wir schon in den Kauf nehmen und die Meinung dahin berichtigen,
dass die Kreuzaufrichtung gemeint ist.”
41
Krauss, Das Leben Jesu, 271: “Der jüdische Erzähler mußte eben keinen christlichen Kalender
vor sich haben, als er dies schrieb, und erkundigen mochte er sich auch nicht.”

488

HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW

January first, etc. However, if we consider Christian liturgical practice at the end
of the fourth or the fifth century, the confusing fog evaporates and the Jewish text
emerges as being quite well informed about Christian festivals.
For the first centuries C.E., the fifty days of Pentecost constituted a single long
festival celebrating Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension and the pouring out
of the Spirit.42 The last day of Pentecost received special devotion beginning in the
third century,43 but a separate festival of Ascension began to develop only in the
late-fourth century.44 In the fourth and early fifth centuries, the final Sunday of the
50-day period, the day of Pentecost, often commemorated both the Outpouring of
the Spirit on the Apostles and the Ascension of Jesus.45 The Doctrina Apostolorum,
a text from an environment with close (but tense) Jewish-Christian relations,
states explicitly that the ascension is celebrated on the last day of the Pentecost.46
Egeria’s Diary, which describes the liturgy of Jerusalem in the 380s, does not seem
to know of Ascension as a distinct festival.47 Even the Old Armenian Lectionary,
42
Odo Casel, La fête de Pâques dans l’Église des Pères (Paris: CERF, 1963; French translation
of “Art und Sinn der ältesten christlichen Osterfeier,” Jahrbuch für Liturgiewissenschaft 14 [1938]
1–78); Thomas Talley, The Origins of the Liturgical Year (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1991)
62–63; and the references given below. Gerard Rouwhorst (“The Origins and Evolution of Early
Christian Pentecost”) argues that even Pentecost was not observed in the first two centuries.
43
See the ambiguous Tertullian De baptismo 19:2 (ed. Gerlo; CChr.SL, 1954) 1:293–94.
44
Chrysostom, In ascensionem domini nostri Iesu Christi (PG 50:441–52); Franz-Rudolf
Weinert, Christi Himmelfahrt. Neutestamentliches Fest im Spiegel alttestamentlicher Psalmen.
Zur Entstehung des römischen Himmelfahrtsoffizium (Disserationen theologische Reihe 25; Sankt
Ottilien: EOS 1987) 6–22.
45
Robert Cabié, La Pentecôte. L’évolution de la cinquantaine pascale au cours des cinq premiers
siècles (Tournai: Desclée, 1965) 127–45; Georg Kretschmar, “Himmelfahrt und Pfingsten,” ZKG
66 (1954/55) 209–53.
46
Canon 9: “At the completion of fifty days after His resurrection make ye commemoration of His
ascension to His glorious Father” (ANF 8:668). For the Syriac, see Paul de Lagarde, Reliquiae juris
ecclesiastici antique syriace (Leipzig: Teubner, 1856) 32–44; and William Cureton, Ancient Syriac
Documents Relative to the Earliest Establishment of Christianity in Edessa and the Neighbouring
Countries from the Year after Our Lord’s Ascension to the Beginning of the Fourth Century (London:
Williams & Norgate, 1864) 24–35 [ET], 166–73 (notes), *24–*35 (Syriac), at 27. See also the
beginning of the treatise, which dates the event of Jesus’ ascension to the fiftieth day after Passover:
“In the year three hundred and thirty-nine of the kingdom of the Greeks, in the month Heziran, on
the fourth day of the same, which is the first day of the week, and the end of Pentecost—on the
selfsame day came the disciples from Nazareth of Galilee, where the conception of our Lord was
announced, to the mount which is called that of the Place of Olives, our Lord being with them, but
not being visible to them. And at the time of early dawn our Lord lifted up His hands, and laid them
upon the heads of the eleven disciples, and gave to them the gift of the priesthood. And suddenly a
bright cloud received Him. And they saw Him as He was going up to heaven. And He sat down on
the right hand of His Father. And they praised God because they saw His ascension according as
He had told them; and they rejoiced because they had received the Right Hand conferring on them
the priesthood of the house of Moses and Aaron” (ANF 667). Based on the absence of a separate
festival of Ascension, Francis C. Burkitt dates this text to the “fourth or even third century,” but this
is not necessary; see his review of Anton Baumstark’s Geschichte der Syrischen Literatur in JTS 24
(1923) 200–3. The third century is highly unlikely in view of the mention of Lent.
47
Some think Egeria’s Diary might refer to Ascension by the name of “forty days” (42:1). Yet

DANIEL STÖKL BEN EZRA

489

which reflects the Jerusalem liturgy from the early-fifth century, seems to regard
Ascension as a rather recent development.48 While I would not press this point too
strongly,49 my impression is that Toledot Yeshu is not confused here, but rather
reflects contemporary Christian ritual life in a community in which the Christian
Shavuot/Pentecost included a commemoration of the ascension. This is reinforced
by further observations regarding the other festivals mentioned in the text.
Rosh Hashanah is juxtaposed with a Cross festival, the “Passing Away of the
Cross” (EF]P\HEXFOpE) or, according to an emendation by Krauss based on a
Yiddish manuscript (B), the “Invention of the Cross” (EF]P\HEXNOpE). Clearly,
this is a reference to the famous Exaltatio Crucis on September 14.50 This festival,
a major liturgical event, spread from fourth-century Jerusalem throughout the
East and from the seventh century onwards in the West.51 From a calendrical
viewpoint, September 14 fits the comparison to Rosh Hashanah rather well. In
the late fourth century, Egeria points to the invention of the cross as central to the
feast of the Enkainia. In fact, this may well have been the feast’s original name (or
its designation among outsiders who knew about the importance of the tradition):
“The dedications of those holy churches are celebrated with the highest reverence
as the cross of the Lord has been found on the very same day.’52 Krauss cleverly
emends EXFOpE (“passing away” or “funeral”) to EXNOpE (“finding”) in order to
arrive at the name of a Christian festival.53 Yet, the present Aramaic form could in
fact be a pun playing on the similar spelling and sound of “Finding of the Cross”
and “Passing Away” or even “Death of the Cross,” or if taken more literally, on
“Laying Down of the Cross” and “Exaltation of the Cross.”54
the ceremony described by Egeria takes place in Bethlehem, not the Imbomon. According to the
date given by manuscript P of the Armenian lectionary (pace ms J 121), this may in fact be the feast
of the Innocents that in 383 fell on the fortieth day after Easter (Paul Devos, “Egérie à Bethléem.
Le 40e jour après Pâques à Jérusalem en 383,” AnBoll 86 [1968] 87–108). That she did not yet
know of Ascension becomes more probable in view of the next paragraph, according to which the
liturgical contents of Ascension are still part of Pentecost (43:5).
48
See Charles (Athanase) Renoux, Le Codex arménien jérusalem 121. Tome 2: Édition, comparée
du texte et de deux autres manuscrits (PO 36/2; Turnhout: Brepols, 1971; no. LVII, LVIII, 336–48).
49
For example, the preference of Ascension over Pentecost might also be influenced by awareness
of the Christian claim that Jesus ascended to heaven. See y. Ta‘anit 2:1 (65b) and Schäfer (2007,
107–11).
50
And not to the celebration of the Inventio Crucis in May in medieval and later Latin liturgy
as briefly discussed by Krauss.
51
Louis van Tongeren, Exaltation of the Cross: Towards the Origins of the Feast of the Cross and
the Meaning of the Cross in Early Medieval Liturgy (Liturgia condenda 11; Leuven: Peeters, 2001);
idem, “Vom Kreuzritus zur Kreuzestheologie. Die Entstehungsgeschichte des Festes der Kreuzerhöhung
und seine erste Ausbreitung im Westen,” Ephemerides Liturgicae 112 (1998) 216–45.
52
Harum ergo ecclesiarum sanctarum encenia cum summo honore celebrantur quoniam crux
Domini inventa est ipsa die (Diary 48:1).
53
The regular Syriac form for inventio crucis would be rather BCOMYEIUKLD without the
initial Aleph (Payne Smith 2:4150).
54
LFOpE is attested in b. Ketub 103b for death. This word play could hardly be translated to Yiddish.

490

HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW

The next Christian festival mentioned, EXV[^K (gĕzôrta = circumcision), the
comparandum for Yom Kippur, seems particularly strange. Krauss explains this as
the celebration of Christ’s circumcision, usually commemorated on January 1. This
does not make much sense from the perspective of the liturgical calendar. Krauss
suggests that the author confused the circumcision of Jesus with the birth of Mary.55
This requires quite a bit of emendation. Another much smaller emendation might
provide a more satisfying solution: reading gĕzîrta EXV]^K instead of gĕzôrta. Yod
instead of waw is the most common scribal error in texts that use square script.
Syriac BUSZ;H (gĕzîrta) can also mean indictio.56 If this is understood as referring
to the (Day of the) Indiction, the two dates given for the holiday, namely September
23 (before ca. 450) or September 1 (after ca. 450), match Yom Kippur rather well.57
As we know from later sources, this day was publicly celebrated with processions.58
In fact, if Rosh Hashanah is compared to the Invention/Exaltation of the Cross on
September 14 and Yom Kippur to the Indiction on September 23, the number of
days between the Jewish and Christian festivals is identical.
Reading gĕzîrta might even help us establish a terminus ad quem for the
composition of this list of festivals. After ca. 450, the Indiction is set on September
1, before the festival of the Cross on September 14. However, the comparison
begins with Rosh Hashanah vs. Invention of the Cross (September 14) followed
by Yom Kippur vs. Indiction (September 1). If the list indeed emerged after 450,
the order of festivals would have been reversed: Rosh Hashanah (1 Tishri) would
have been compared to the Indiction (September 1) and Yom Kippur (10 Tishri) to
the Exaltation of the Cross (September 14). From the perspective of the liturgical
content of the Christian festivals, juxtaposing Tishri 1 with September 1 would even
have been a closer analogy. The present text is therefore also the lectio difficilior.
Alternatively, the Yiddish form reports the original and the current Aramaic is a later pun.
55
Krauss, Das Leben Jesu, 272.
56
Payne Smith, Thesaurus Syriacus, 1:701.
57
Venance Grumel, “Indiction,” in NCE 7 (1967) 466–68; idem, “Indiction byzantine et
2)32)837,” Revue de Études Byzantines 12 (1954) 128–43; and compare the additional notes
of François Halkin, “La nouvelle année au septembre,” AnBoll 90 (1972) 36; and Denis Feissel,
“Notes d‘épigraphie chrétienne (VII),” Bulletin de correspondance hellénique 108 (1984) 545–79,
esp. 566–71. The more widespread Syriac term for indiction seems to be simply the transcription of
the Latin/Greek. Carl Brockelmann, Lexicon Syriacum (Halle: Niemeyer, ²1928; repr., Hildesheim:
Olms, 1982); see reverse index. Thanks to Adam Becker for this information. In the continuation
of Payne Smith’s entry to gĕzîrta there is another not unsuitable candidate for a pendant to Yom
Kippur: BUSZ;HEBNXY (ṣauma dĕgĕzîrta), the Fast of the Ninevites. Some of its readings indicate
connections to Yom Kippur (e.g., Isa 58:1–14, Jonah 3–4). This multi-day fast was observed around
February by both Syrian churches as a major event. See Anton Baumstark, Nichtevangelische
syrische Perikopenordnungen des ersten Jahrtausends (Liturgiewissenschaftliche Quellen und
Forschungen 15; Münster: Aschendorff, 1921, ²1971) 60–64. The earliest evidence comes from
the end of sixth century (ibid.). In an erudite answer to an inquiry on the hugoye-list, Basil Lourie
suggested as terminus ad (!) quem the late fourth century (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/hugoyelist/message/277). This seems too early to me.
58
Venance Grumel, La chronologie (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1958) 192–206.

DANIEL STÖKL BEN EZRA

491

As our text does not exploit these elements of even closer similarity, we may
conclude that more probably the list of analog festivals was composed before 450.
Moreover, a reference to the Indiction, unknown as it was in the Persian world,
gives an indication as to the Eastern limits of possible provenance and confines
this section firmly inside the Byzantine Empire.
Finally, listing the (pagan) Kalendae (Ianuariae) as parallel to Chanukka, too,
points to a rather early period when this festival was still important, more important
than Christmas. The term Kalendae is very well known in Jewish sources. It
appears in an ancient rabbinic discussion of pagan festivals to be avoided59 and
has been juxtaposed with Chanukka.60 The natural comparandum to Chanukka in
a medieval Christian context, however, would have been Christmas. The absence
of Christmas from the list in Toledot Yeshu may point to a time when this festival
was not yet widely celebrated or to a geographical area where Christmas did not
(yet) attract as much attention as Kalendae (still) did. Statements by Augustine and
Faustus the Manichean prove the attraction of the Kalendae to Christians in very
late fourth- and early-fifth-century North Africa.61 Libanius and Chrysostom attest
to its appeal in Antioch at this time.62 It is likewise well known that it took much
longer for Christmas to become attractive in certain parts of the East.63
In short, the cumulative evidence seems to point to a rather early provenance
for this list of Christian (and Jewish) festivals between the late-fourth and midfifth centuries. The validity of these conclusions relies on the presupposition that
the list of festivals is chronologically sequential. The order of the Jewish festivals
makes this assumption highly probable. The list begins with the weekly festival
59
m. ‘Aboda Zar. 1:3 and the relevant Talmudic discussions y. ‘Aboda Zar. 1:2(3) (39c) and b.
‘Aboda Zar. 8a, as well as t. ‘Aboda Zar. 1:4.
60
Moshe Benovitz, “Herod and Hanukka,” Zion 68 (2003) 5–40 [Hebrew]; Daniel Stökl Ben
Ezra, “Interaction et différenciation. Quelques pensées sur les rôles des fêtes juives, chrétiennes
(et ‘païennes’),” in Cohabitations et contacts religieux (ed. Nicole Belayche and Jean-Daniel
Dubois; Bibliothèque de l’École des Hautes Etudes, Sciences religieuses; Turnhout: Brepols;
forthcoming).
61
John Scheid, “Les réjouissances des calendes de janvier d’après le sermon Dolbeau 26.
Nouvelles lumières sur une fête mal connue,” in Augustin prédicateur (395–411), Actes du Colloque
International de Chantilly, 5–7 septembre 1996 (ed. Goulven Madec; Paris: Institut d’Études
Augustiniennes, 1998) 353–65; M. Kahlos, “Pompa diaboli. The Grey Area of Urban Festivals in
the Fourth and Fifth Centuries,” in Studies in Latin Literature and Roman History XII (ed. Carl
Deroux; Collection Latomus 287; Brussels: Latomus, 2005) 467–83.
62
Fritz Graf, “Kalendae Ianuariae,” in Ansichten griechischer Rituale. Geburtstagssymposium
für Walter Burkert (ed. idem; Stuttgart & Leipzig: Teubner, 1998) 199–216; idem, “Roman Festivals
in Syria Palaestina,” in The Talmud Yerushalmi and Graeco-Roman Culture III (ed. Peter Schäfer;
Texts and Studies in Ancient Judaism 93; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2001) 135–51.
63
E.g. Jerusalem and Armenia (Susan Roll, “Weihnachten,” TRE 35 [2003] 453–68, at 461).
On Christmas in general, see Susan Roll, Toward the Origins of Christmas (Liturgia Condenda 5;
Kampen: Peeters/Kok-Pharos, 1995); Martin Wallraff, Christus Verus Sol. Sonnenverehrung und
Christentum in der Spätantike (JAC Suppl. 32; Münster: Aschendorff, 2001) 174–97; Hans Förster,
Die Feier der Geburt Christi in der Alten Kirche (Studien und Texte zu Antike und Christentum 4;
Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2000).

492

HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW

Sabbath. The yearly festivals Passover, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and
Chanukka follow in strictly chronological order. To begin with the Sabbath and to
continue with Passover is unexceptional and accords with biblical passages such as
Leviticus 23 and Numbers 28–29.64 Many lists in rabbinic literature likewise begin
with Passover rather than with Rosh Hashanah.65 If the interpretations noted above
are correct, the list of Christian festivals follows the same strict chronological order
as the Jewish one, beginning with the weekly Sunday and then continuing with the
yearly festivals Easter, Ascension, festival of the Cross, Indictio, and Kalendae.66 As
the list of Christian festivals is juxtaposed with a chronologically ordered Jewish
list, this assumption seems to me very probable, but it remains a hypothesis.
This conclusion is further supported by the observation that later scribes failed to
understand the aforementioned practices and tried to avoid difficulties by updating
the liturgical practices to suit their contemporary environment. An important Yiddish
manuscript compares Shavuot to “Pfingsten.” Other manuscripts take an even easier
route and omit the list of holidays, referring simply to “Sabbaths and festivals”:
And [Eliyahu] said: the most important thing that Yeshu (may his memory
be blotted out) wants from you is that you separate from the Jews in Torah,
language, social contact, Sabbaths, and festivals and that you make houses
for your prayers.67

Assuming that the provenance suggested for the Christian list of festivals reflected
in the present text is correct, we cannot rule out the possibility that a fifth-century
Christian list was used by a Jewish author who lived later, or even much later,
64
Compared to these lists, some festivals and fast-days are absent (e.g. Sukkot, Purim, and Tish‘a
beAv), and the post-biblical Chanukkah has been added. Compare also Deuteronomy 16 (Passover,
Shavuot, Sukkot) and 2 Chr 8 (Sabbath, New Moon, Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot); these lists commence
with Passover or the Sabbath but do not mention Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
65
E.g. m. Meg. 3:5–6, which mentions Passover, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and
Sukkot followed by Chanukkah, Purim, the New Moon, and liturgical events; see also y. Meg. 3:5
(73d), b. Meg. 30b and Sofrim 17:5. For the sequence Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot, see also t. Meg.
3:5, t. B. Metz. 4:18, and t. Bek. 7:9. Sifra Emor 10:13 juxtaposes Passover and Shavuot with Rosh
Hashanah and Yom Kippur without Sukkot.
66
The sequence weekly-yearly festivals is also attested in the Codex Theodosianus (15:5:5):
Sunday, Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Pentecost and the Apostolic Passion (of Peter and Paul).
67
˜]H?[QF[X[XFpFLV[FNFÚ[pPFLV[XF˜]H[L]LÚQ[PHFXp˜OQL\[V["p]pVU]?L[[L]PE]VQE[
˜O]X[PTXP˜]XF[p?X[ MS V ch. 19 (Krauss, Das Leben Jesu, 85). MS Y replaces almost the
entire list and gives Sunday, Christmas, Epiphany, Good Friday/Easter, and Ascension instead:
“[Eliyahu] said: ‘Jesus gives you a sign. He said, know what is written in the Torah (Isa 1:14):
Your new moons and your festivals my soul hated.’ They said: ‘[If] already the Holy One May He
Be Blessed hated those days, come, let us abstain from work on the first day of the week on which
the Holy One May He Be Blessed enlightened his world and let us decree (make) as festivals the
day Jesus was born, the day he was instituted [Epiphany?], the day he died and the day he ascended
into heaven.’ ” LERp˜O]H?[Q[˜O]pHNLV[XFF[XOpLQ[?HVQEX[E˜OPÚX[R?[p]VQE[[L]PE]
˜]F[J˜]Q]Lp?R[[QP[?L"FULV]E]L[FpXFpFHNEFX[FpR[[E[F[PE˜]Q]L"FULERpVFO[VQE]pTR
˜]QpPLP?p˜[][XQp˜[][LRQXRp˜[][?[p]HP[Rp˜[][RP. MS Y, ch. 12 (Krauss, Das Leben Jesu,
121).

DANIEL STÖKL BEN EZRA

493

and/or not in the same region as the origin of the list.68 Easter and Ascension/
Pentecost would have been well known to most people. The author could have
learned from the Talmudic discussions that Kalendae could be linked to Chanukka.
He would have fortuitously juxtaposed the Cross festival with Rosh Hashana and
the Indiction/Circumcision with Yom Kippur without necessarily understanding
what they were and when they were celebrated. However, adjustments to the list
of festivals in later manuscripts of Toledot Yeshu that adapt the Christian festivals
to contemporary practice make it more likely, in my view, that someone using an
old list to compose this part of Toledot Yeshu would have revised his source at the
outset to reflect contemporary circumstances. In addition, subsequent to the list of
festivals, the text speaks of circumcision. It would have been smoother and more
convincing in a Catholic or Orthodox environment to juxtapose Chanukka with
the commemoration of Jesus’ circumcision on January 1st (as is in fact done, e.g.,
in a Yiddish manuscript).69 Yet we cannot disprove the possibility that an early
Christian list was later used by a Jewish author.
In sum, the Aramaic festival names that preserve Syriac loanwords in a Hebrew
text and the liturgical realia reflected in the titles of the festivals suggest strongly
that the Strasbourg manuscript has faithfully transmitted early traditions from the
late-fourth or (more probably) early-fifth century that have been updated to reflect
contemporary liturgical practice in most other manuscripts of anti-Acts.
What kind of sociological situation could have been the setting for such a
composition? According to anti-Acts, the separation of Judaism and Christianity
does not cause war but peace. It is the ambiguity before the foundation of new and
distinct religious rules of conduct that causes trouble. Paul alias Elijah is in a sense
a Saint for the Jews, since in founding Christianity as a separate religious system
he ends the blurring of boundaries. In contrast to, e.g., the Pseudo-Clementines,
which portray Paul as the great betrayer, the anti-Acts of Toledot Yeshu accepts
one of the central themes of mainstream Christianity, viewing Paul as a separator
between Jews and Christians.70 Why? In a poignant paper, John Gager has termed
groups on the boundary between mainstream Judaism and mainstream Christianity
(i.e., Jewish Christians, Christian Jews, and God-fearers) “the dangerous ones in
between”—“dangerous” in the view of the proponents of both mainstreams.71
Simon Légasse has suggested that the anti-Acts section of Toledot Yeshu emerged
in medieval Western Europe. Jews, he postulated, were afraid of Judaizing
Christians since their attraction to Judaism could anger Christian authorities and
68
The notion of a medieval Jewish sage accessing ancient Christian Syriac material is not
implausible. See Martha Himmelfarb, “R. Moses the Preacher and the Testament of the Twelve
Patriarchs,” AJS Review 9 (1984) 55–78, esp. 75–77.
69
B, mentioned above, and Krauss.
70
Légasse, “La légende juive . . . dans le haut Moyen Age,” 106.
71
John Gager, “Jews, Christians and the Dangerous Ones in Between,” in Interpretation in
Religion (ed. Shlomo Biderman and Ben-Ami Scharfstein; Philosophy and Religion 2; Leiden:
Brill, 1992) 249–57.

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cause trouble for the Jews.72 Speaking out against Christian Judaization, then, was a
kind of preemptive Jewish self-censorship. As I have tried to argue, the Elijah/Paul
section of anti-Acts in the Helena-recension of Toledot Yeshu (and possibly even a
rudimentary version of Toledot Yeshu) should be dated to the late-fourth or early-fifth
century. Chrysostom and ecclesiastic legislation indicate that there was a significant
amount of Christian “Judaizing” in the contemporary Eastern Empire.73 Severe
punishments for Jewish instigators of Christian converts in Imperial legislation74
show that Christian authorities tried to prevent Jews from converting Christians.
In 383 C.E., even instigating others to merely participate in Jewish rituals became
a crime punishable by death.75
On the other hand, Jewish Christianizing, too, would probably not have been seen
as laudable by other Jews. It is difficult to estimate the extent of this phenomenon
as sources are scarce.76 Jewish punishment and persecution of Jewish converts to
Christianity is prohibited by several imperial laws from the early-fourth and earlyfifth centuries.77 Conversion to Christianity for social, criminal, or fiscal rather than
religious reasons is prohibited by other laws78 from the late-fourth and early-fifth
centuries. Anyone who partially observed Christian rites and continued to abide by
Jewish customs would naturally be suspected of being such a pseudo-convert. The
polemics of this part of anti-Acts therefore serve as an indicator for the existence
of Jewish-Christian interaction and fit a situation in which Jewish identity had to
be reinforced.79

72

Légasse, “La légende juive . . . dans le haut Moyen Age,” 120–21.
Marcel Simon, “La polémique antijuive de saint Jean Chrysostome et le mouvement judaïsant
d’Antioche,” in idem, Recherches d’histoire judéo-chrétienne (Paris-La Haye: Mouton, 1962) 140–53;
Robert Wilken, John Chrysostom and the Jews: Rhetoric and Reality in the Late Fourth Century
(Berkeley: Wipf & Stock, 1983); Rudolf Brändle, “Christen und Juden in Antiochien in den Jahren
386/387. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte altkirchlicher Judenfeindschaft,” Judaica 43 (1987) 142–68.
74
Amnon Linder, The Jews in Roman Imperial Legislation ([ET]Detroit: Wayne State University
Press; Jerusalem: Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1987 [Hebrew original: Jerusalem,
1983]), nos. 8, 12, 16, 39, 50, 54.
75
Cod. Theod. 16:7:3 = Linder, no. 16.
76
Günter Stemberger, Jews and Christians in the Holy Land: Palestine in the Fourth Century
(Edinburgh: Continuum, 2000) 80.
77
Linder, nos. 8, 10, 52. The most interesting law against “Christianizing” by Jews is in fact
much later (eighth century, according to Linder, no. 65).
78
Linder nos. 26, 43.
79
Seth Schwartz, Imperialism and Jewish Society: 200 B.C.E. to 640 C.E. (Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 2001) 240–74.
73

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495

■ Conclusions and Implications
Let me briefly summarize my main points. The list of festivals appearing in some
versions of the Eliyahu/Paul section of the anti-Acts of Toledot Yeshu suggests
an early date—probably the first half of the fifth, or perhaps even the late-fourth
century—for this part of the text. Paganism was still part of the landscape (Kalendae
Ianuariae), and Christmas was not yet universally celebrated. Pentecost and
Ascension were not yet clearly separate holidays, and the True Cross began to
have great significance in popular belief and behavior. Most probably, anti-Acts
was already part of a recension of a composition similar to our Toledot Yeshu. It
may not belong to the earliest stage of the Toledot, however, since it seems unlikely
that recensions without anti-Acts opted to excise them at one point. The Syriac
elements, the absence of Christmas, and the presence of Persia and Nestorius may
point to a geographical area east of the Orontes, in particular for the Nestorius
section. The reference to the Indiction excludes Babylonia, so the most probable
provenance is Byzantine Syria/Palestine. However, the three sections of antiActs are not necessarily of the same age and provenance. A gradual expansion is
possible: as the Nestorius section refers to the Eliyahu section, the former may
well be a later embellishment of the latter. The Syriac festival names, otherwise
unattested in Palestinian Aramaic, may even testify to a (written) Christian source
as its original nucleus. Jewish lists of Christian festivals most likely existed in Late
Antiquity and were known to authors who took the regulations in the first chapter
of Avoda Zara seriously.
Scholars have wondered why Palestinian rabbinic sources include so few openly
anti-Christian traditions in comparison to the Babylonian Talmud. Recently, Schäfer
ascribed this to the different political situations of Byzantine and Sassanian Jewry.80
However, if Toledot Yeshu (not only the list of Christian festivals) turns out to be
from late antiquity, this discrepancy between Babylonian and Palestinian Jewry
must be reevaluated. It is not impossible that this apparent difference was caused
by the tendency of Palestinian Judaism to exclude material from the Talmud and to
create separate compositions such as the midrashim or Toledot Yeshu. The Bavli, as
a melting pot of many different genres, includes a larger proportion of anti-Gospel
material.81 So far, assuming that my presuppositions and interpretations are correct,
we can only make a probable case for a small part of Toledot Yeshu, the Eliyahu
section, and only in one recension, that of Helena. Yet some late-antique Palestinian
Aramaic Piyyutim found in the Geniza are very explicitly anti-Christian and provide
further evidence for the existence of explicitly anti-Christian texts from Byzantine
80

Schäfer, Jesus in the Talmud, 113–22
The Babylonian Talmud sometimes reports such traditions in blocks (e.g., the Book of Dreams),
and sometimes separately. The Jesus traditions are widely scattered, much like the exegetical
traditions of, e.g., Genesis. On the book of dreams, see the forthcoming book by Haim Weiss, ‘All
Dreams Follow the Mouth’? A Literary and Cultural Reading in the Talmudic ‘Dream Tractate’
(Be’ersheva: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev [Hebrew]).
81

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Palestine.82 To reach firmer conclusions on this point we must wait for the critical
edition and in-depth analysis of all of Toledot Yeshu that has been announced as
project in progress by Peter Schäfer.
Now, let us return to the more important social realm: Clearly, this passage in
anti-Acts betrays the perspective of somebody who has a general knowledge of
contemporary Christian festal traditions in Palestine/Syria. He is well acquainted
with at least parts of the New Testament and bothered by people and groups
blurring the boundaries between Christianity and Judaism, Jewish Christianizers,
Christian Judaizers and most of all by Jewish Christians. In his view, interaction
and mixing traditions causes conflict and festivals emerge as particularly important
for the construction of Jewish and Christian identities, respectively. It does not
seem too far-fetched for me to assume that the original composer(s) of anti-Acts
lived in a time and a geographical area in which Christian participation in Jewish
festivities and Jewish participation in Christian celebrations were not marginal
phenomena. The author(s) then belong(s) to a hard-liner group that wants to limit
these phenomena.

82

Michael Sokoloff and Joseph Yahalom, Jewish Palestinian Aramaic Poetry from Late Antiquity:
Critical Edition with Introduction and Commentary (Jerusalem: Israel Academy of Sciences and
Humanities, 1999 [Hebrew]), especially song 33 on pp. 204–19; Menahem Kister, “Shirat bney
ma‘arava. heybetim be‘olama shel shira ‘aluma,” Tarbiz 76 (2007) 105–84; a nice English investigation
is Ophir Münz-Manor, “Carnivalesque Ambivalence and the Christian Other in Jewish Poems from
Byzantine Palestine,” in Jews in Byzantium: Dialectics of Minority and Majority Cultures (ed. Robert
Bonfil and Guy Stroumsa; forthcoming). Seemingly positive elements are explained as parody by
Sokoloff and Yahalom (29), as malicious humor and polemic by Kister (161–62) and as signs of
envy by Münz-Manor. I would like to thank Menahem Kister and Ophir Münz-Manor for providing
me with their articles prior to their publication.

Summaries of Doctoral Dissertations
■ Eyal Aviv [Ph.D. 2009]
Differentiating the Pearl From the Fish Eye: Ouyang Jingwu (1871–1943)
and the Revival of Scholastic Buddhism
This dissertation explores the rise of Buddhist scholasticism in Republican China
(1911–1949) through the career of one of its most outspoken leaders, Ouyang Jingwu
(1871–1943). Ouyang Jingwu, a lay Buddhist intellectual, charismatic teacher and
polemical writer, is most recognized for his critique of the East Asian Buddhist tradition, and this critique stands at the heart of the dissertation. In addition to presenting
this critique, this dissertation explores one of the most innovative hermeneutical
alternatives offered by this influential and creative thinker. To date, scholars have
overlooked the importance of Ouyang for later intellectual developments. I argue
here that understanding Ouyang’s critique is crucial for later developments in
Chinese intellectual history both within and outside of Buddhism.
The first chapter of this dissertation outlines Ouyang’s biography in order
to provide a broader intellectual context. The second and third chapters discuss
Ouyang’s critique of the East Asian tradition. Chapter 3 surveys the problems that
Ouyang identified in the East Asian Buddhist tradition, while chapter 4 highlights
the core problem, in Ouyang’s view, of the spuriousness of the Awakening of
Faith. Finally, the fifth chapter introduces one of Ouyang’s most controversial
and idiosyncratic solutions to the problems in the tradition that he identified in his
“Two Paradigms” theory.
I conclude that Ouyang’s alternatives posed one of the greatest challenges to
traditional Chinese thought in the modern period. It offered a systematic critique
based on the medieval Indian Buddhist scholastic tradition. Later attempts to adapt
traditional Chinese thought to the modern period, such as those by Buddhist apologists and the rise of the influential New Confucian movement, are closely linked
to the scholastic Buddhist movement. One cannot understand the former without
understanding the latter.

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■ Timothy Dalrymple [Ph.D. 2009]
The Ladder of Thorns: Søren Kierkegaard on the Varieties of Suffering
This dissertation contends that the relationship between human suffering and divine
love is an enduring and profound concern for Kierkegaard through the entirety of
his literary production. He articulates a narrative of human advancement in which
sufferings serve to draw the willing individual providentially and maieutically
toward the possibility and the life of faith. Kierkegaard constructs a “ladder” of
sufferings, as it were, where each rung has its own thorns and where each thorn can
serve to transform the individual along the way to authentic subjectivity in faith.
Only one wounded on the thorns of the present rung may pass on to the next, and
the suffering of these wounds leads to death—and to the “new being” of faith, the
highest rung, where one stands and remains only by being wounded continually in
“Christian suffering.” Through suffering the false self is put to death; in suffering
the true self lives truly in the world. The story of the self is a story of suffering
from beginning to end.
This dissertation moves in a broadly chronological manner through Kierkegaard’s evolving treatment of the varieties of sufferings and the varieties of their
uses through the love of God for the transformation of the spirit. What emerges is
a novel way of reading Kierkegaard, his project, and his place in the intellectual
discourse of modernity. Understanding Kierkegaard as an interpreter of suffering brings clarity to his undervalued works as well as his most celebrated, and to
his readings in premodern Christian sources as well as modern. By connecting
Kierkegaard’s early (largely pseudonymous) reflections of melancholy, depression,
despair, and anxiety with his later writings on “religious suffering” and “Christian
suffering,” one can see the whole of Kierkegaard’s corpus in the coherence of its
fundamental concerns and the continuity of its treatment of the suffering self, the
suffering Christian, and the suffering Church. Moreover, this approach reveals
the “attack upon Christendom” at the end of Kierkegaard’s life not as a departure
from sanity, but as the final unfolding of his critique of modern Christendom for
neglecting the “price” of faith.

■ Gábor Ittzés [Th.D. 2009]
“The Breath Returns to God Who Gave It”: The Doctrine of the Soul’s
Immortality in Sixteenth-Century German Lutheran Theology
This study examines the development of a new Lutheran doctrine of the soul’s immortality in the course of the sixteenth century. After a brief sketch of the medieval
and Renaissance background, I begin with Luther, whose eschatological thought
has been much scrutinized, but without producing a lasting scholarly consensus.
Against widely different recent interpretations, I argue that Luther’s apophaticism
and emphasis on the unspeakability and ungraspability of the post-mortem state
should be recognized. Against a popular mid-twentieth-century theological posi-

SUMMARIES OF DOCTORAL DISSERTATIONS

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tion that sharply juxtaposed the resurrection of the body with the immortality of
the soul, and attributed the same conviction to Luther, it must be affirmed that the
Reformer saw the latter doctrine entailed in the former. He understood both insights
as articles of faith of which reason could never be certain.
Analyzing revisions between his Commentarius and Liber de anima, I show
that Melanchthon’s mature position was that the immortality of the soul could be
recognized by reason without revelation, while belief in the resurrection of the
body was a privilege of faith. Melanchthon’s return to Aristotle and his admission
of reason, however, must be seen in the context of a Lutheran law–gospel dialectic,
and should not be regarded as compromising the older Reformer’s theology.
In the second half of the sixteenth century, German Lutheran authors, including
Melchior Specker, Andreas Musculus, Basilius Faber, Martin Mirus, David Chyträus, and others produced a remarkably coherent body of literature in which they
affirmed the soul’s immortality. Superficially, the new orthodoxy seems closer to
Lateran V than to Luther, but that is not the case. While patristic ideas and other
factors were also in play, the three most profoundly formative influences shaping
the work of second- and third-generation Reformation theologians originated with
Luther, Melanchthon, and a confessional commitment against the Catholic doctrine
of purgatory. Philosophically, later-sixteenth-century authors were all students
of Melanchthon. Theologically, however, Luther exerted a more profound influence on them, which I demonstrate by examining their arguments and prooftexts
in general, and their treatment of three questions—soul sleep, knowledge of the
righteous dead, and the appearance of departed souls on earth—in particular. The
dissertation concludes with some reflections on the functions and consequences
of the doctrine.

■ Ching Keng [Ph.D. 2009]
“Yogâcāra Buddhism Transmitted or Transformed? Paramârtha (499–569 C.E.)
and His Chinese Interpreters”
This dissertation argues that the Yogâcāra Buddhism transmitted by the Indian
translator Paramârtha (Ch. Zhendi ⳳ䂺) underwent a significant transformation due
to the influence of his later Chinese interpreters, a phenomenon to which previous
scholars failed to pay enough attention.
I begin with showing two contrary interpretations of Paramârtha’s notion of
jiexing 妋⿏. The traditional interpretation glosses jiexing in terms of “original
awakening” (benjue 㛔奢) in the Awakening of Faith and hence betrays its strong
tie to that text. In contrast, a contrary interpretation of jiexing is preserved in a
Dunhuang fragment Taishō No. 2805 (henceforth abbreviated as T2805).
The crucial part of this dissertation consists in demonstrating that T2805 and
the Awakening of Faith represent two competing lineages of the interpreters of
Paramârtha. The first clue is that modern scholars have voiced objection to the
traditional attribution of the Awakening of Faith to Paramârtha. In addition, I dis-

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covered that striking similarities exist between T2805 and Paramârtha’s corpus with
respect to terminology, style of phrasing, and doctrine. I further draw attention to
the historical testimonies about two different doctrinal views held by Paramârtha’s
interpreters. Therefore, I argue that there were two lineages in the name of
Paramârtha’s disciples around 590 C.E.: the indirect lineage interpreted Paramârtha
through the lens of the Awakening of Faith; and the direct lineage—represented by
T2805—preserved Paramârtha’s original teachings but died out prematurely. Later
Chinese Buddhist tradition mistakenly regards the indirect lineage as Paramârtha’s
true heir and attributes the Awakening of Faith to Paramârtha.
This implies that Paramârtha may have agreed with Xuanzang 䌬⤀ (600–664)
much more than scholars have assumed. For example, Xuanzang’s characterization
of the notion of “aboriginal uncontaminated seeds” is similar to how Paramârtha
depicts jiexing. It also implies that we should distinguish the strong sense of the
notion of “tathāgatagarbha” (the “womb” [garbha] of the Tathāgata, i.e., the Buddha) in the Awakening of Faith from its weak sense. The fact that even Vasubandhu
endorses the weak sense of “tathāgatagarbha” strongly challenges the received
wisdom that Yogâcāra and Tathāgatagarbha were two distinct and antagonistic
trends of thought in India.

■ Mark Johnson McInroy [Ph.D. 2009]
Perceiving Splendor: The “Doctrine of the Spiritual Senses” in Hans Urs von
Balthasar’s Theological Aesthetics
This study argues that the so-called “doctrine of the spiritual senses” should be
recognized as a vital component of the theological aesthetics of Hans Urs von
Balthasar (1905–1988). The doctrine of the spiritual senses has been interpreted in
the Christian tradition in a variety of ways. In its epistemological sense, it generally
claims that human beings can be made capable by grace of perceiving “spiritual”
realities. After a lengthy period of disuse within systematic theology, Balthasar
recovers the doctrine in the mid-twentieth century and articulates it afresh in his
theological aesthetics. At the heart of this project stands the task of perceiving the
absolute beauty of the divine form (Gestalt) through which God is revealed to
human beings. Although extensive scholarly attention has focused on Balthasar’s
understanding of revelation, beauty, and form, what remains curiously neglected
is his model of the perceptual faculties through which the human being beholds
the form that God reveals. I argue that Balthasar draws upon the fecund tradition
of the spiritual senses in an effort to develop the anthropological structure requisite to perceiving the “splendor” (Glanz) of divine revelation. In other words, it
is precisely through the spiritual senses that one performs the epistemologically
central task of “seeing the form.”
Furthermore, to the minimal extent that Balthasar’s understanding of the spiritual
senses has been treated at all, no source properly acknowledges the remarkable
manner in which he creatively rearticulates the doctrine in his aesthetics. I therefore

SUMMARIES OF DOCTORAL DISSERTATIONS

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additionally claim that Balthasar integrates elements of the classic doctrine of the
spiritual senses with the thought of his contemporaries, and that from this intersection emerges a highly original understanding of the spiritual senses. I also explain
how, in the various interactions and tensions between Balthasar and Barth, on the
one hand, and Balthasar and Rahner, on the other, the importance of this theme in
Balthasar’s thought has been overlooked in the secondary literature to date.

■ Atalia Omer [Ph.D. 2009]
After Peace: How Does the Israeli Peace Camp Think about Religion,
Nationalism & Justice?
This dissertation analyzes the Israeli peace camp and how positions on the questions
of the interrelation between religion and nationality relate to the interpretations
of justice vis-à-vis the Palestinian predicament. The dissertation studies the “visions of peace” and the “visions of citizenship” articulated by groups as diverse
as Peace Now, Gush Shalom, Netivot Shalom, Rabbis for Human Rights, the
Israeli-Palestinian Balad political party, and the Mizrahi Democratic Rainbow.
By drawing on recent scholarship, which attempted to link “peace” and “justice”
in a meaningful way, this work devises a set of dynamic criteria with which to
evaluate each peace platform and its respective interpretation of justice. Challenging the modernist-secularist inclination to interpret “nationalism” as a “religion
surrogate” or a structural analogue of religion, the underpinning theoretical point
is that religion and nationalism are intricately related and thus cannot be viewed as
dichotomous or antithetical. Hence, religious sources, vocabularies, institutions,
and leadership may function centrally in devising interpretations of culturally
embedded secularity in zones of ethnonational contestations—a process which is
referred to in this dissertation as the hermeneutics of citizenship.
Likewise, the dissertation emphasizes the critical importance of rearticulating
subaltern voices and histories as a central dimension of conflict transformation and
peacebuilding efforts. It accomplishes that by highlighting the counter-hegemonic
cases of the Mizrahim (the “Arab Jews”) and that of Palestinian-Israelis. Both
the effort to centralize subaltern counter-narratives (including those of internal
victims) and the insistence on the irreducibility of “religion” to “nation” suggest
creative potentialities for thinking about questions of peace and justice in contexts
of ethnoreligious national conflicts.
This dissertation further argues that the new field of inquiry and practice of
“religion in peacebuilding” overlooks the importance of introspecting the nexus
between religion, nationalism, and ethnicity as articulated and reproduced in zones
characterized by ethnonational conflicts. This critique derives from this work’s
recognition of the following: 1) the persistent role of religion in the processes
of imagining and reimagining the nation as suggested in Anthony Smith’s work
on nationalism; 2) the potentially transformative and liberalizing role of “state”
institutions in moving away from exclusivist interpretations of nationhood toward

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increased inclusivity, which according to Anthony Marx’s study, has been the case
in western Europe; 3) David Little and Scott Appleby’s notion of the ambivalence
of the sacred and the irreducibility of the resources of religion to interpretations of
nationalism, despite what might be suggested by nationalist rhetoric; and 4) ongoing theoretical conversations, which have challenged modernist interpretations of
the “secular” as representing the absence or diminishing presence of religion and
as subsequently implying a neutral public sphere.
The central contention that emerges out of this scrutiny of the Israeli peace
camp is that a just peace to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would necessitate the
following conditions: 1) recognizing Zionism as a root cause of conflict; and 2)
partaking in a process of reimagining alternate interpretations of the “nation,”
understood as a “political theology.” The two cases of the new Mizrahi discourse
and of the Palestinian citizens of Israel were presented in order to underscore the
following propositions: 1) why the ideology of Zionism may be viewed as a root
cause of the conflict; 2) the structural and ideological interconnectedness between
the broader Palestinian-Israeli conflict and questions of social justice within Israel
proper; 3) the importance of exploring and reclaiming subaltern counter-narratives
in the process of introspecting and reimagining the national ethos; 4) the creative
and empowering effectiveness of post-colonial and post-modern theoretical insights in de-naturalizing national claims and perceptions; and 5) the relevance of
international human rights conventions and theories of multiculturalism to thinking
locally through the problem of peace and justice.

■ Christian Rice [Th.D. 2009]
For the Common Moral Benefit: Thinking through the Conditions Necessary
to Secure the Moral Priority and Fixity of Individual Rights
This project begins with the presupposition that a non-negotiable set of individual
rights is of critical moral importance. Indeed, to my mind, one cannot speak of the
“common good” without protecting, first and foremost, a set of individual moral
entitlements. This set of entitlements, which, I will argue, must be understood to be
logically detachable from comprehensive moral and religious doctrines, functions
as a minimal common good. Understanding rights as “rights to the goods in one’s
life,”1 I assert that defense of this prior type of good is a critical moral requisite if
we are to safeguard the common moral welfare of all citizens.
Alarmingly, I see the priority and stability of individual rights as under attack in
a variety of ways. Scholars debate whether rights should be prioritized over democratic deliberations, for example, so that they have moral priority over attempts by
society to define and pursue shared common ends. And, even within the liberal fold,
there are key philosophical disagreements, which potentially hold an enormous
1
Nicholas Wolterstorff, Justice: Rights and Wrongs (Princeton: Princeton University Press,
2008), 5.

SUMMARIES OF DOCTORAL DISSERTATIONS

503

influence upon whether our democratic culture might actually satisfy what I take
to be the moral point of individual rights protections—that rights operate as fixed
and non-negotiable limits on the use of state power.
This dissertation, then, seeks to outline the conditions under which the status
of certain key individual rights can be guaranteed. Critically, I posit a doctrine
of natural or inherent rights, grounded in what I see as the reality of non-trivial
necessary moral truths.
I then make a case for the importance of a doctrine of public reason, which
I develop as a logical offshoot of my case for inherent rights. The aim of such a
doctrine is to guarantee that state policies, which affect basic entitlements, are
translatable in a way that all citizens can, at least, accept as reasonable, even
though there will be inevitably political disagreement among them. I argue that a
conception of public reason, which succeeds in protecting the rights of all citizens
without discrimination, must be logically detachable from comprehensive moral
and religious doctrines.

Books Received
Anderson, Gary A. Sin: A History. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press,
2009. 272 pp. $30.00 hb.
Booker, Courtney M. Past Convictions: The Penance of Louis the Pious and the
Decline of the Carolingians. Philadelphia, Pa.: University of Pennsylvania
Press, 2009. 420 pp. $75.00 hb.
Budden, Chris. Following Jesus in Invaded Space: Doing Theology on
Aboriginal Land. Princeton Theological Monograph Series. Eugene, Oreg.:
Pickwick Publications, 2009. 179 pp. $22.00 pb.
Cavanaugh, William T. The Myth of Religious Violence. New York: Oxford
University Press, 2009. 285 pp. $49.95 hb.
Conyers, A. J. Last Things: The Heart of New Testament Eschatology. South
Bend, Ind.: St. Augustine’s Press, 2009 [1995]. 142 pp. $14.00 pb.
Cunningham, Lawrence S. An Introduction to Catholicism. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2009. 284 pp. $27.99 pb.
Cunningham, Mary B., and Elizabeth Theokritoff, eds. The Cambridge
Companion to Orthodox Christian Theology. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2009. 321 pp. $29.99 pb.
Dijon, Xavier. Les droits tournés vers l’homme. Paris: Les Éditions du Cerf,
2009. 170 pp. €20 pb.
Divry, Edouard. La Transfiguration selon l’Orient et l’Occident. Collection
Croire et Savoir 54. Paris: Éditions Pierre Téqui, 2009. 560 pp. €36 pb.
Dolgopolski, Sergey. What is Talmud? The Art of Disagreement. New York:
Fordham University Press, 2009. 333 pp. $60.00 hb.
DuBois, Thomas A. An Introduction to Shamanism. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2009. 317 pp. $29.99 pb.
Dunning, Benjamin H. Aliens and Sojourners. Philadelphia: University of
Pennsylvania Press, 2009. 188 pp. $49.94 hb.
Endsjø, Dag Øistein. Greek Resurrection Beliefs and the Success of Christianity.
New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009. 274 pp. n.p. hb.
Fürlinger, Ernst. The Touch of Śakti: A Study in Non-Dualistic Trika Śaivism of
Kashmir. New Delhi, India: D. K. Printworld, Ltd., 2009. 288 pp. n.p. hb.

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Gelpi, Donald L. Encountering Jesus Christ: Rethinking Christological Faith
and Commitment. Marquette Studies in Theology 65. Milwaukee, Wis.:
Marquette University Press, 2009. 640 pp. $47 pb.
Goering, Gregory Schmidt. Wisdom’s Root Revealed: Ben Sira and the Election
of Israel. JSJSup 139. Leiden: Brill, 2009. 313 pp. $169 hb.
Greggs, Tom. Barth, Origen, and Universal Salvation: Restoring Particularity.
New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. 242 pp. $99.50 hb.
Holman, Susan R. God Knows There’s Need: Christian Responses to Poverty.
New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. 206 pp. $29.95 hb.
Jackson, Sherman A. Islam & the Problem of Black Suffering. New York:
Oxford University Press, 2009. 232 pp. $29.95 hb.
Janz, Paul D. The Command of Grace: A New Theological Apologetics. New
York: T&T Clark, 2009. 190 pp. $34.95 pb.
Jones, Peter Rhea. 1, 2 & 3 John. Smyth & Helwys Bible Commenary. Macon,
Ga.: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2009. 310 pp. n.p. hb.
Kearney, James. The Incarnate Text: Imagining the Book in Reformation
England. Philadelphia, Pa. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009. 312 pp.
$65.00 hb.
Linzey, Andrew. Why Animal Suffering Matters: Philosophy, Theology, and
Practical Ethics. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. 206 pp. $29.95 hb.
Kamesar, Adam, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Philo. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2009. 301 pp. $29.99 pb.
Kendall, Calvin B., Oliver Nicholson, William D. Phillips, Jr., and Marguerite
Ragnow, eds. Conversion to Christianity from Late Antiquity to the Modern
Age: Considering the Process in Europe, Asia, and the Americas. Vol. 1 of
Minnesota Studies in Early Modern History. Minneapolis: Center for Early
Modern History, 2009. 449 pp. $95.00 hb.
Ker, Ian and Terrence Merrigan, eds. The Cambridge Companion to John Henry
Newman. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. 280 pp. $29.99 pb.
Kierkegaard, Søren. Concluding Unscientific Postscript to the Philosophical
Crumbs. Edited and translated by Alastair Hannay. Cambridge Texts in the
History of Philosophy. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009. 539 pp.
$39.99 pb.
Klapwijk, Jacob. Purpose in the Living World? Creation and Emergent
Evolution. Translated and Edited by Harry Cook. New York: Cambridge
University Press, 2009. 311 pp. $24.99 pb.
King, Benjamin John. Newman and the Alexandrian Fathers: Shaping Doctrine
in Nineteenth-Century England. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.
289 pp. $100.00 hb.
MacMullen, Ramsay. The Second Church: Popular Christianity A.D. 200–400.
Writings from the Greco-Roman World Supplement Series 1. Atlanta: Society
of Biblical Literature, 2009. 216 pp. $24.95 pb.

BOOKS RECEIVED

507

Makrides, Vasilios N. Hellenic Temples and Christian Churches: A Concise
History of the Religious Cultures of Greece from Antiquity to the Present.
New York: New York University Press, 2009. 343 pp. $45.00 hb.
Martin, Lee Roy. The Unheard Voice of God: A Pentecostal Hearing of the
Book of Judges. Journal of Pentecostal Theology Supplement Series 32.
Dorset, U.K.: Deo Publishing, 2009. 288 pp. $26.95 pb.
Mies, François, ed., François Bœspflug, Philippe Charru, Benoît van den
Bossche, Yvette Vanden Bemden, Madeleine Zeller. Bible et art: L’âme des
sens. Brussels: Lessius, 2009. 192 pp. €19 pb.
Miller, Chaim. Rambam, The Thirteen Principles of Faith, Principles 6 & 7:
Prophecy. The Slager Edition. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Kol Menachem, The Gutnick
Library of Jewish Classics, 2009. 408 pp. $21.99 hb.
Mowbray, Donald. Pain and Suffering in Medieval Theology: Academic Debates
at the Universtity of Paris in the Thirteenth Century. Woodbridge, U.K.:
Boydell Press, 2009. 192 pp. n.p. hb.
Mustakallio, Antti, and Lars Aejmelaeus, eds. Paavali valokeilassa. Vol. 96 of
Suomen Eksegeettisen Seuran Julkaisuja. Helsinki: Gummerus Kirjapaino
Oy, 2008. 359 pp. €32 pb.
Olivera, Bernardo. Light for My Path: Spiritual Accompaniment. Translated
by August-ine Roberts. Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 2009. 140 pp.
$19.95 pb.
Pagoulatos, Gerasimos P. Tracing the Bridegroom in Dura: The Bridal Initiation
Service of the Dura-Europas Christian Baptistry as Early Evidence of the
Use of Images in Christian and Byzantine Worship. Piscataway, N.J.: Gorgias
Press, 2009. 185 pp. n.p. pb.
Petrizi, Ioane. Kommentar zur Elementatio theologica des Proklos. Übersetzung
aus dem Altgeorgischen, Anmerkungen, Indices und Einleitung. Edited by
Lela Alexidze and Lutz Bergemann. Bochumer Studien zur Philosophie 47.
Amsterdam: B. R. Grüner, 2009. 420 pp. $180.00 hb.
Phillips, Thomas E., ed. Contemporary Studies in Acts. Macon, Ga.: Mercer
University Press, 2009. 280 pp. $35.00 pb.
Powers, David S. Muhammad Is Not the Father of Any of Your Men: The
Making of the Last Prophet. Philadelphia, Pa.: University of Pennsylvania
Press, 2009. 416 pp. $55 hb.
Robbins, Vernon K. and Duane F. Watson, eds. The Invention of Christian
Discourse. Volume 1. Rhetoric of Religious Antiquity Series. Dorset, U.K.:
Deo Publishing, 2009. 565 pp. n.p. pb.
Rosenbaum, Stuart. Pragmatism and the Reflective Life. Plymouth, U.K.:
Lexington Books, 2009. 196 pp. n.p. hb.
Rowe, C. Kavin. World Upside Down: Reading Acts in the Graeco-Roman Age.
New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. 300 pp. $65.00 hb.
Russell, Norman. Fellow Workers with God: Orthodox Thinking on Theosis.
Foundations Series 5. Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2009.
189 pp. n.p. pb.

508

HARVARD THEOLOGICAL REVIEW

Shantz, Colleen. Paul in Ecstasy: The Neurobiology of the Apostle’s Life and
Thought. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009. 267 pp. $80.00 hb.
Shedinger, Robert F. Was Jesus a Muslim? Questioniing Categories in the Study
of Religion. Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 2009. 194 pp. n.p. pb.
Sinnott-Armstrong, Walter. Morality Wwthout God? New York: Oxford
University Press, 2009. 192 pp. $24.95 hb.
Sommer, Benjamin D. The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel. New
York: Cambridge University Press, 2009. 334 pp. $85.00 hb.
Sutton, Matthew Avery. Aimee Semple McPherson and the Resurrection of
Christian America. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2009. 351
pp. $18.95 pb.
Ter Haar, Gerrie. How God Became African. Philadelphia, Pa.: University of
Pennsylvania Press, 2009. 120 pp. $34.95 hb.
Varghese, Johns. The Imagery of Love in the Gospel of John. Analecta Biblica
177. Rome: Gregorian & Biblical Press 2009. 486 pp. €25.00 pb.
Van de Loo, Stephanie. Versöhnungsarbeit. Kriterien-theologischer RahmenPraxisperspektiven. Theologie und Frieden. 418 pp. €39.00 hb.
Voke, Christopher J. Creation at Worship: Ecology, Creation and Christian
Worship. Colorado Springs, Colo.: Paternoster, 2009. 206 pp. n.p. pb.
Weber, Alison, ed. Approaches to Teaching Teresa of Ávila and the Spanish
Mystics. New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 2009.
297 pp. $19.75 pb.
Wells, G. A. Cutting Jesus Down to Size: What Higher Criticism Has Achieved
and Where It Leaves Christianity. Chicago, Ill.: Open Court Publishing, 2009.
384 pp. $44.95 pb.
Witte, John, Jr. The Sins of the Fathers: The Law and Theology of Illegitimacy
Reconsidered. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009. 211 pp.
$29.99 pb.
Yücesoy, Hayrettin. Messianic Beliefs and Imperial Politics in Medieval Islam:
The ‘Abbasid Caliphate in the Early Ninth Century. Columbia, S.C.: The
University of South Carolina Press, 2009. 212 pp. $39.95 hb.
Zubiri, Xavier. Man and God. Translated by Joaquín Redondo. Translation
critically revised by Thomas Fowler and Nelson Orringer. Lanham, Md.:
University Press of America, Inc., 2009. 315 pp. n.p. pb.

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The Cambridge
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8 Interactive program TekScroll illustrates important
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8 Exercises and practice items build on vocabulary from
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8 Cross-referenced to the second-year textbook, A Guide to
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www.cambridge.org/us/webster
www.cambridge.org/us

Contents:
Introduction
1. The signs and sounds of Hebrew: orthography and
pronunciation
2. Syllables: the structural girders of Hebrew
3. The ‘state’ of noun morphology, and also gender
and number
4. More noun patterns
5. Prepositions, conjunction, article and interrogative
particle, direct object indicator
6. Pronouns: pronominal suffixes on substantives and
prepositions
7. Adjectives
8. Participles: infinitive construct
9. Selected words: numbers
10. Introduction to verbs: qal perfect
11. Qal perfect weak verbs
12. Qal imperfect and preterite: strong verbs
13. Qal imperfect and preterite: weak verbs
14. Qal volitionals and infinitive absolute
15. Pronominal suffixes on verbs
16. Derived stems: participles and infinitives
17. I-class imperfect verbs: niphal, piel, hitpael, hiphil
18. I-class imperfects: r3 = weak, r2 = g, r1 = g, r2 = x,
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19. I-class imperfect weak verbs: r2 = y, r1 = y, r2 = r3,
weak imv., inf., and ptc.
20. A-class imperfect verbs: pual, hophal
21. Derived stem perfects: strong verbs, r3 = weak
22. Derived stem perfects: r1 and r2 weak, r2 = r3,
rare binyanim; Excursus A: Sorting through forms
and alias profiles; Excursus B: A syntax sampler:
introduction to chapters 23-32
23. Pauses and drama
24. Lexicography: semantic combinations and the
meaning of z
25. Noun syntax
26. Verb syntax: the piel
27. Verb syntax: participles
28. Clausal syntax in narrative: movies in the mind;
29. Particles: s and t
30. Infinitives
31. Perfect and vav plus perfect
32. Poetry and time frame
Appendix A: Additional vocabulary lists
Appendix B: Glossary: words used 50+ times in the
Hebrew Bible
Appendix C: Paradigms: verb id badges and alias
profiles

Cambridge Journals Online
For further informaion about this journal please
go to the journal website at:
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