Self-Control in a World Controlled By Others: Palestinian Rabbinic 'Asceticism' in Late Antiquity - 10.1628/rre-2018-0003 - Mohr Siebeck
Religious Studies

Catherine Hezser

Self-Control in a World Controlled By Others: Palestinian Rabbinic 'Asceticism' in Late Antiquity

Section: Ascetism in the Late Roman Empire
Religion in the Roman Empire (RRE)

Volume 4 () / Issue 1, pp. 9-27 (19)

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The article suggests that asceticism can best be understood as a religious form of self-control, of using one's mind to control one's body. The control of the senses can serve as a category that allows us to compare rabbinic 'ascetic' behaviours with those associated with ancient Christianity. Askesis and self-control were already present in Hellenistic culture on which both rabbinic Judaism and ancient Christianity are based. Self-control for the purpose of living in accordance with what one perceived to be God's will and for the avoidance of what was seen as transgression was a dominant feature of rabbinic Judaism. In Palestinian rabbinic texts it is mentioned in connection with the senses of hearing, seeing, touching, and tasting. In contrast to the radical self-control of the desert fathers, rabbis propagated a lifestyle of self-awareness and discretion, in which every detail of ordinary life and behaviour had to be closely examined and adjusted to one's Torah-based beliefs. Rather than constructing ideals, rabbis faced reality and adjusted to it pragmatically. Although rabbis may have hoped that many other Jews would follow their rulings, in reality, this is most likely for their disciples and sympathisers. Therefore rabbinic self-control should also be seen as a marker of a specifically rabbinic identity and as a response to Romanisation.

Catherine Hezser 1986 Promotion in Ev. Theologie in Heidelberg mit Schwerpunkt Neues Testament; 1992 Promotion in Jewish Studies am Jewish Theological Seminary in New York; 1997 Habilitation an der FU Berlin; seit 2005 Professorin für Jewish Studies an der School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) der University of London.