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