The Rabbinic Epithet Gevurah
© Michael Zank, Copyright 1997
in: Approaches to Ancient Judaismvol. xiv (1998)
ed. Jacob Neusner (University of South Florida Press), pp. 83-168
1. Rabbinic theology is an elusive topic. By "theology" I mean either a set of doctrines pertaining to God or the activity of construing such doctrines ("doing theology"). Rabbinic "theology" is elusive not because rabbinic texts are devoid of theological doctrines but rather because of the manner in which these doctrines are presented. To put it differently, the manner in which God "appears" in rabbinic texts resists systematic unification; so much so that our reconstructions of the doctrinal meaning of rabbinic statements can easily be dismissed as mere constructs of a type one might call Hellenistic, Christian, or modern rather than rabbinic. It seems that rabbinic thought resists conceptualization as if the latter constituted a subtle kind of idolatry to be avoided at all costs.
2. It is, however, far from obvious whether avoidance of conceptualization, where it occurred, resulted from hostility to Hellenization (which would presuppose a clear and consistent identification of one sort of reasoning as Hellenistic and alien and that of another as "authentically Hebrew") or whether it was the unintentional byproduct of a number of internal factors accompanied by disinterest or lack of training in non-indigenous discourses contemporaneous with the rabbis. Given the variety of locales and cultures, epochs, languages, genres, techniques and styles found in ancient rabbinic literature from Palestine and Babylonia, it is highly improbable that there existed a concerted polemical strategy or an all-pervasive intellectual program guiding Jewish theological reasoning. Rather, what holds the diverse statements together are the Torah, and scripture in general, the authority of oral traditions, the Hebrew language, and the languages and terminologies of rabbinic discourse. Rabbinic discourse is a form of "textual reasoning," a way of forming ideas in exchange with the authoritative traditions, written and oral, in order to enrich the tradition through truthful transmission, refined categorization, and new, ingenious interpretation. On a very formal level, and very tentatively, I would say that what distinguishes rabbinic thought from Philo as much as from medieval Jewish philosophy, kabbalah, and Christian thought is the absence of a conceptual hermeneutical key as the guide for rabbinic interpretation. The rabbis cannot be said to have sought reconciliation between Sinai and Stoa, Sinai and Aristotle, or Sinai and neo-Platonic ontology. They sought, instead, a kind of continued Sinai.
3. Contemporary studies of rabbinic literature are mired in fundamental debates about the provenance and dating of rabbinic texts, so that any attempt to describe what "the" rabbis believed must be tentative at best. Traditionally, rabbinic attributions were regarded as historically reliable (i.e., traditional scholars usually accept it as historical when a midrash is attributed to R. Akiba and use it for a reconstruction of the opinions held by this early 2nd-century sage). More recently, this approach was subjected to severe criticism by Jacob Neusner and his school. Neusner argues that we must limit our judgments to statements about the final form of the respective works of literature, a procedure leading to the identification of different rabbinic Judaisms that can be diachronically distinguished from each other. Thus, for example, the Mishnah represents a "philosophical" representation of the Judaic heritage, which is transformed into a "religion" in the Palestinian and Babylonian Talmuds. According to this view, historical statements contained in the Mishnah cannot be used to reconstruct the historical layers they refer to (e.g. statements about "when the Temple was still in existence") without first subjecting them to the suspicion that they might be reconstructions of the past from the point of view of the final editors. While this method has long been common in biblical scholarship it is still not universally accepted in rabbinic studies.
The majority of scholars embraces a middle position between the extremes of naive trust in the historical accuracy of attributions and the rejection of any possibility of useful literary and historical analysis that may help to reconstruct not only the process leading to the final form of the text but also to determine the variety of ideational forces, pragmatic strategies, and semiotic assumptions that were at work at different stages in the formation of rabbinic Judaism.
This debate highlights the problem we encounter in any study of rabbinic theology. This pursuit is elusive not only because the rabbis, for the reason described above, seem resistant to Hellenistic, Christian, Gnostic, and other forms of conceptual and mythological thought, but because we are no longer certain as to what we know about the rabbis. We have texts but no authors, little reality checks about what was the case in thought and practice outside of the texts, and we cannot be certain that the texts shed any light on anything outside themselves. The histories of the texts are uncertain, and so are the social realities of the Jewish communities in antiquity and the appropriateness of conceptual approaches to the reconstruction of rabbinic theology.
4. If, despite such caveats, we must nevertheless engage in attempts to determine rabbinic theology, then we must make clear at every juncture what it is we are doing. Our study is based on the assumption that whatever the rabbis understood to be the case, whatever they meant to communicate (either on the final redactional level, or in truthfully recorded statements of earlier sages, if such truthfulness can be convincingly argued), can be again understood, provided we bear in mind the rabbinic resistance to our conceptualization. On the other hand, such methodological optimism must be tempered and augmented by the realization that our reading entails transformation and translation into the language of academic discourse of texts whose transformation of Torah was guided by religious and political concerns and interests while ours aims to disengage itself from such interests. Despite all recent criticism of the ideal of scholarly objectivity, it has at least the methodological virtue of making one's fundamental presuppositions a matter of debate.
5. For the purpose of "pure" scholarship we become pashtanim, concerned with establishing a range of basic interpretative possibilities. To the extent that scholarship occurs in communities of authors, readers, reviewers, editors, etc., every attempt at establishing the pshat of rabbinic texts is poetic, the construct of individuals responding and speaking, none of whom can claim to present the whole picture.
6. Since there exists no "pure" scholarship, the individual scholar should give an account of his or her bias, the reason why he or she focuses on one topic or another. This is not meant to say that good scholarship cannot stand on its own, i.e., that the results of the study cannot become a building block in someone else's edifice. In fact, this is what we all consider the highest compliment, especially if others construct their views according to our own vision. I believe that it is this fact of a vision which, above all, connects us to the rabbis, as it connects us to all serious thinkers anywhere and anytime. Vision means the assumption that our observations make sense, that they add up to something that is not only communicable but meaningful. Although I often claim in my classes that the rabbis were a kind of mental chess players, their language game is not merely self-referential, at least not in their own minds. Rabbinic theology is what propels the rabbis to concern themselves with language pertaining to God, a concern whose centrality as a problem of serious philosophical thought is beyond doubt.
7. It is important to develop a sense for the specific ways in which God appears in rabbinic language. These ways are characterized by rabbinic epithets and attributes of God, but also by the contexts in which we find these epithets and attributes. The importance of context should be evident when we consider the following. Biblical and rabbinic Judaism is characterized primarily by distinguishing the God of Israel from all other entities that were habitually called "god" (el, elohim). In the biblical sources, the uniqueness of the God of Israel is carried from a relational uniqueness ("Thou shalt not have other gods before me") to existential uniqueness, i.e., God must be distinguished from gods as the one who is, as opposed to those who have no being other than that attributed to them by their worshippers, and who are, by definition, powerless. This ontological distinction of God is indicated in his name, "I am who I am," a name around which a performative fence is built through rules as to when and by whom it is to be pronounced. To this day, this performative setting sets the name of God apart (i.e., "sanctifies" it in the sense of the Hebrew word qaddosh) from all other names and words, by pronouncing something different when seeing it written.
8. Just as the presence and reality of the name of God is perceived (and construed) as a kind of "ontological difference," God's being in and for itself is not thematized. Even in the medieval kabbalah, where the phases and levels of God's inner life are elaborated as the referents of the words of Torah, the infinite is beyond comprehension (i.e., beyond language). Hence, even in kabbalah, the Torah, correctly decoded, reveals God in his being-towards-the-world, in his self-emanation towards the cosmic reality that he him-herself prefigures and determines. Kabbalah thus continues the ancient theological practice albeit in a new and different linguistic and philosophical mode that involves a narrowing of hermeneutical possibilities.1 Rabbinic theology concerns itself with the performative and experiential side of God's revelation. In general, revelation means here a "thick" concept that involves process as well as result, the personal presence of one who reveals as well as the manifest token of the revelatory event in the form of written and oral language; an ongoing event and presence through rituals, performance of commandments, and study. Divine revelation is revelation both of someone and of something. It discloses possibilities for human holiness and wholeness that discipline human beings towards achieving the higher objective of "meeting the king," communicating with God "face to face."
The process of sanctification envisaged in the rabbinic Torah tactfully focuses on the implications of the presence of the divine Other for human conduct. The deus revelatus of Sinai is not the other side of a deus absconditus but of the human potential for sacredness. Similarly, the revelation at Sinai does not come to end a state of wrathfulness but in order to enable human beings to make good choices. Without such guidance humanity is thought to remain subject to error and self-destructive impulses. To the rabbis, concerned as they are with making a fence around Torah, what is necessary to know about God is neither abstract nor theoretical but practical. Hence also the medieval philosophical tradition could expand on the rabbinic concern with God and remain within the same parameters even where it made the knowledge of God a vital commandment, knowlegde including metaphysics and astronomy. Maimonides continues to maintain that the Torah reveals of God only what is necessary as a guide toward right action (attributes of action). Likewise, the scientific knowledge of nature, sublunar and supralunar, is necessary to keep our understanding of God's being free from the error of anthropomorphism. In order for God to remain Other, all else must be comprehended in its difference, as much as humanly possible.
9. Thus the concerns with God's presence are concerns that affect the ability of human beings guided by Torah to act without unnecessary inhibitions in the pursuit of holiness. If this assumption is even roughly accurate, then we can expect rabbinic theological reflection to appear where unnecessary and detrimental inhibitions are experienced. By such inhibitions I mean obstacles in the intellectual or religious experience that prevent the individual or the community from pursuing the halakhic path of incremental holiness. Theology is aggadic in that it frames the mental environment of action. For rabbinic Judaism, God constitutes the ultimate frame, condition, and telos of such action. Inhibitions or obstacles of the kind addressed in theological language are such as pertain to human experience in light of traditional assumptions of God, e.g. the assumption that God is sovereign in historical reality (the Exodus tradition), that God communicates with people (Sinai, prophecy, tradition), and that God can be addressed in prayer. The first assumption is challenged by the destruction of the Temple and the political powerlessness of the Jews (historical theodicy); the second assumption is challenged by claims to revealed knowledge outside the rabbinic tradition (heresies, sectarians) as well as in practices of exposition at variance with common rabbinic conventions; the third assumption is challenged by variances in piety (dualism, theurgic practices where such are disouraged).
10. Underlying my claims about the possibility of describing rabbinic theological notions is a hermeneutics of reconciliation. Such a hermeneutics was practiced, for example, by Yehezkel Kaufmann in his reconstruction of the religion of Israel.2 In his reconstruction, Kaufmann was guided by the assumption of the accuracy of the medieval Jewish philosophical presupposition that, from the outset, biblical religion, the religion of ancient Israel, was distinguished from the surrounding cults, and that the very core of biblical religion was constituted by resistance to the magical worldview of monotheism. Kaufmann and those who followed in his footsteps reconciled the biblical texts with the basic assumptions brought to it by earlier Jewish interpreters. He thus initiated an ever more widely accepted trend of deemphasizing the discontinuities between the Old Testament and its ancient and medieval interpreters. What is important to us in Kaufmann's works is that it revealed the arbitrariness, or rather the conditional and conditioned nature, of Protestant OT scholarship which had posed until then as objective science (as, e.g., in the still common German categorization of OT scholarship as "alttestamentliche Wissenschaft"). While Kaufmann himself did not emphasize the philosophical underpinnings of his magnificent Gegenentwurf, it should be clear to us that his approach of retroactive reconcilation of text and tradition is neither more no less legitimate a heuristic tool for the reconstruction of meaning as, say, a historical criticism that operates archeologically in search of an Urtext.
In this sense, I find it entirely legitimate for Bible scholars to consult midrashic exegesis in order to determine the possible range of meanings once associated with certain biblical texts. Similarly, despite the above caveats, one might cautiously bring medieval and modern Jewish philosophical concerns to bear on our analysis of rabbinic texts without narrowing the range of hermeneutical possibilities mapped by the rabbis. For one thing, medieval and modern Jewish philosophical and mystical exegesis always took into account the voices of rabbinic literature and formulated in their own terms what the interpreters saw as the meanings of rabbinic Torah. This medieval and modern Jewish philosophical project naturally presupposes familarity with rabbinic literature which can help us, in turn, to direct our own attention to matters which might have gone unnoticed from a purely modern and secular perspective. For another, medieval and modern Jewish thinkers were and are engaged in the perpetuation of the very project which we must assume to have been operative in the otherwise completely unintelligible rabbinic projects of codification and debate. In other words, if philosophy and mysticism could ever become genuine, appropriate, and authentic idioms by which to continue the project begun in Mishnah and Talmud (always assuming that, on some level, their project is identical), Mishnah, Midrash, and Talmud must contain not only forces resisting conceptual and symbolic approaches but also forces which sharpen the conceptual and symbolic concerns with God as the condition for human sacredness.
Thus any intelligible description of rabbinic theology which is not merely a redundant (and hence, entirely unrabbinic) reiteration of the text must reveal both elements, i.e., structures resisting and structures sharpening our conceptual attempts of giving an account of the theological assumptions of the rabbis.
11. The present study of divine power as expressed in the divine epithet gevurah and its various usages is meant as a contribution not only to the historiography of rabbinic thought but also to the comparative study of religion. More specifically, as indicated in the themes mentioned earlier (God's presence in history, revelation and its truthful transmission, and pious practice), rabbinic thought contributes its unique perspective to the general human effort of constructing coherent sociality and meaning under the presupposition of a universe determined by a single intelligent and beneficent principle. This general epistemic horizon first allows us to view the variety of rabbinic statements in terms of a single question, namely how the rabbis (as represented in various texts of different provenances) addressed the cognitive dissonance between the assumption of divine omnipotence (implied as it is in the belief in God's sovereignty over his creation) and the experience of the human condition. Of course, to the rabbis, the latter is the experience of homo ioudaios sub conditione exilii, the created and covenanted Israelite in a state of exile. Thus rabbinic theology addresses the general problem of an omnipotent God vis-ˆ-vis human being in the form of questions such as: Who is the liberator from exile? What are the ways of the Exodus (the first act of historical redemption as well as the model for ultimate restoration of national sovereignty)? How is revelation present (the question of the continuity of Sinai)? and How is God to be addressed efficaciously (piety, prayer)?
12. This study began as a seminar paper for Michael Fishbane, then at Brandeis University, in which I attempted to criticize Ephraim E. Urbach's approach to conceptualizing rabbinic beliefs. That first version was put to good use when it helped me to convince Professor Marvin Fox to take me on as a PhD student in Jewish Thought. In the meantime, the paper has undergone many revisions. An NEH Summer Seminar for College Teachers in 1996 in Jerusalem (directed by Michael Stone and Gary Anderson) enabled me to return to rabbinic theology, which for me had been on the backburner for a number of years which I devoted to work on Hermann Cohen and his concept of Vers öhnung. Dr. David Aaron subjected my draft to the most rigorous and helpful critique imaginable. I also wish to thank Michael Fishbane, Eli Reich, and Steven T. Katz for taking the time to read and comment on earlier drafts.
Divine Power, Omnipotence, and Theodicy
The notion of power is central to the religious experience. Eliade speaks of "cratophany" as a primary element of that which we perceive as sacred or holy. In this sense, power is a defining characteristic of the divine. In monotheistic religion and in its philosophy of religion power is mostly conceived in terms of omnipotence. In turn, the notion of the omnipotence of God is related to whether and how it is possible to "know God" as well as to the perennial discourse on the main challenge to this notion, the problem of suffering and the existence of evil.
Although not immediately apparent, the monotheistic revolution of ancient Israel that bequeathed to the West its monotheistic thinking had need for theodicy built into its system from the very outset. Belief in a single God does not account for suffering by assuming conflict between various divine powers, conceived of either as the forces of nature that are locked in cyclical combat (Canaan), or that influence the biographical fate of mortals or the fortune of tribes and states through internecine strife (Greece). Instead, the forces pitted against each other in struggle are the sole creator God and the human being who, despite his/her evident dependence on the mercy of his/her maker, engages in acts of disobedience. In this dramatic scenario, humans replace the forces of chaos and the lesser gods as agents that are sometimes self-centered, sometimes obedient, agents who must be forcefully guided through blessing and curse, reward and punishment, towards acknowledging God's agency in nature and history. The alternative is destruction. In the Torah, human disobedience is the source of evil and God is at once the long-suffering benefactor, plaintiff, and judge. In ancient Israelite religion, human agency, loyal and disloyal to its maker, emerges as human possibility and as an implication of monotheism.
Israelite religion gradually refined its understanding of human agency and its relation to evil and God. Early Israel thought in terms of the tribal conglomerate, the state, and heroic leaders. The need for a justification of God in the face of suffering arose here in the context of historical threat and destruction. The covenantal system of the Deuteronomistic movement provided an answer to the perception that the God of Israel had failed to deliver in 722 when the Northern State was destoyed by the Assyrians. The legal and prophetic tradition crystallized into a fundamental answer to such claims: Israel has to blame itself if its fate seems to be sealed, if the life of the people appears to be cursed. If a people counteracts divine law and is guilty of the same abominations as the people whom God drove out of the land, it must suffer the very same consequences.
When the southern state of Judah, the "sacred remnant," experienced a similar fate a new message was needed. Ezekiel, for example, envisaged a potential for reconstruction and return for both individuals and the community. He focused attention on the potential of individuals to restore their moral potential despite previous disobedience. Both the individual and the collective could repent and restore the broken covenant, an act corresponding on the human level to Jeremiah's idea that God himself was to establish a new type of covenant that was to be "in the heart." This kind of restoration was the best evidence of God's power: if the dry bones could come to life again, historical disaster was not the last and ultimate reality. God's restoration of life to the dead, the ancient motif of Eastern Mediterranean fertiliy religions once common also in Israel, was applied to the historical experience of national rebirth and restoration.
Guilt, repentance, forgiveness, and restoration to life gave legitimacy to a sophisticated sacrificial system but left an important aspect outside its purview, an aspect which also first appeared in biblical literature, especially in the wisdom tradition, and without which biblical monotheism would not be fully described. The pious individual, like prophet and psalmist, experiences a God who keeps silent in the face of unjust suffering and gratuitous evil. Eventually, a standard solution to this problem is found following Judaism's adoption of the belief in resurrection. The belief in an afterlife excused God from failing to deliver reward in this life to those who not only repented but lived examplary lives. Gratuitous suffering and the phenomenon of martyrdom, first evidenced in the Maccabean revolt, call for a strong anwer that the Exodus and the prophetic traditions about national rebirth cannot address. The individual (Jeremiah, Job, and Ecclesiastes) is not just the penitent (cf. Psalm 51) but the one who radically questions God's justice. To the individual, belief in resurrection becomes the necessary expression of hope in God's victory.
The rich textual, oral, and ritual tradition of Israelite and Judean monotheism is the background and point of departure for rabbinic Judaism, i.e., for the intellectual movement which, in the wake of the destruction of the Second Temple, assumed the position of the primary interpreters and guardians of this heritage. To the tannaitic and amoraic authors or authorships (Neusner) all concerns with the presence of God are filtered through Torah. The Torah sets the limits of speech about God, about God's presence in history (in the face of destruction), about God's presence to the prayer, and about the proper exposition and study of Torah. It is within these contexts, namely of God's revelatory presence and human access to this presence, that the rabbinic epithet gevurah ("power") appears.
The Epithet Gevurah
Literally, and in its biblical usage, the word gevurah refers to that which makes the hero (gibbor) a hero. In both Bible and rabbinic literature the root gv"r is distinctly associated with masculinity. This is especially clear when someone's gevurah is contrasted with his "effeminate" appearance of weakness. The related word gever means man, plain and simple. One could say, the gibbor is a heightened version of the ordinary gever. While the gendered meaning of the abstract noun gevurah can be uncovered in this way, it is as oblique as the vir in the Latin virtus ("ViRtue"; cf. gVuRah!).3
Gevurah can refer to the power of horses and gevurot (pl.) to the manly deeds of kings and God. In most cases, I translate the term as "power," corresponding to the Greek abstract noun dynamis, as indeed the term was understood by Greek-speaking Jews in antiquity. When translating the divine epithet(hag-gevurah),4 I render it as "The Power."
By what stages "power" attained the rank of a name of God in rabbinic parlance is unclear; it seems a relatively surprising candidate for such honors as expressed for example in the rabbinic topos referring to Moses' having received the Torah "from the mouth of the power" (mip-pi hag-gevurah; see below). Yet the Bible often lays the groundwork and indicates the trajectory for the mythopoeic work of the scribes and rabbis. In Scripture, gevurah and the plural gevurot refer to YHWH's capability of acting like a warrior, a characteristic he displayed on two paradigmatic occasions subsequently invoked in moments of hymnic commemoration or moments of distress. The first opportunity for YHWH to display his manly virtues (speaking redundantly) was his cosmogonic slaying of Rahab, the Sea monster, a victory in combat that led to the establishment of the protected order of "natural" life and the acclamation of YHWH's kingship in the assembly of the gods (Ps 89; cf. Ps 65:7, 66:7). The second opportunity, modelled after the first,5 is the act of salvation at the Reed Sea (kri'at yam suf), another combat with the element of water but now in the context of history, establishing "cultural" order in the covenant of Sinai (cf. Ps 106 and Isa 63:7ff). Here, the review of God's feats serves to make the people recognize their shameful lack in covenantal trust and truthfulness. In some cases, gevurah is also associated with the angel of salvation (Isa 63:9) or with the time or figure of messianic redemption (Isa 33:13, Isa 28:5-6, Isa. 11:2). God as the mythological "hero" (gibbor) of old, one of the principal names of the God of Israel already used in biblical prayer,6 and the enigmatic nature and wherabout of his power of historic salvation are likely to have given rise, after the hurban, to the rabbinic coinage of "The Power" (hag-gevurah ) and its usages.
The passages analyzed in this paper demonstrate that the rabbis were not only fully aware of the mythological connotations of biblical references to gevurah but used them to pursue their own agendas. While there is no systematic unity in the usage of the epithet gevurah in the bodies of rabbinic literature that I examined there is nevertheless a common concern.
As I see it, the common thread linking the diverse situations in which the epithet is used is the concern with the presence of YHWH, a concern which became particularly virulent after the destruction of the Temple but was already prefigured in apocalyptic texts which evidently bequeathed their conceptual apparatus not only to the sectarians. Hence, whether YHWH manifests himself at the Sea and at Sinai (Mekhilta), or in the Torah (the mip-pi hag-gevurah tradition prevalent in the Babylonian Talmud), or in the fire burning on the sacrificial altar (perhaps originally associated with traditions on the name of the archangel Gabriel), the manifestation of YHWH is one of power for the sake of Israel's salvation. Accordingly, God's gevurah is invoked in prayer (especially in the Palestinian Talmud) and, where God's salvific power is in question, it is poetically reified as a weakened gevurah (Pesikta de-Rav Kahana).
Another common denominator of the variations on the rabbinic epithet gevurah can also be indicated by pointing to what it does not mean or imply. In no case does the epithet gevurah approach the philosophical meaning of "omnipotence." The medieval Hebrew translators of Jewish philosophical works composed in Arabic were sensitive to this fact when they coined a new term: hak-kol yakhol, a pale, abstract, and philosophically unambiguous attribute lacking the colorful armory of the epithet gevurah.
This survey takes into account mainly the following bodies of rabbinic literature:
-- Tannaitic works (Mishnah, Tosefta, Sifre on Numbers and Deuteronomy, Sifra on Leviticus)
-- Mekhilta de Rabbi Ishmael, traditionally regarded as a tannaitic midrash, an attribution which has become debated,7 as well as Mekhilta de Rashbi
-- the Talmud of the Land of Israel
-- the Babylonian Talmud
-- Pesikta de Rav Kahana, a midrash from the amoraic period.
The epithet gevurah is notably absent from the Mishnah and rare in Tosefta and in most tannitic midrashim with the exception of Mekhilta de RI (but see note above on the disputed provenance of this midrash compilation). On the other hand, all references to the epithet gevurah in the Babylonian Talmud occur in traditions that are supposedly of tannaitic origin (baraita). These hints alone suffice to indicate the intricacy of the literary history of the epithet.
While it is difficult to trace its history, we nevertheless find a certain variety of ideas associated with the term in its literal usage as well as clearly defined connotations of the epithet, ranging from semantic comments on gevurah and word-play with the gendered connotations to fully fledged mythopoeic passages. I will present this wealth of material according to the following tentative categories.
1. Scientific, Moral-Philosophical, and Social Connotations of gevurah in the literal sense of "dynamis" or "potential"
B. Moral Philosophy in the Stoic Sense: Power=Self-Discipline
C. Gevurah as a Characteristic of the Rabbis' Social Position
2. Mythological Connotations of Gevurah: Theophany and the Element of Fire
3. Gevurah as a Characteristic of Divinity in the Context of Benedictions and in
Contemplations on the Primeval and Supernal World
a) Gevurah in Prayer and Historical Theodicy
b) Gevurah and theophany in the context of prayer
c) The use of divine attributes in the wording of prayer and the detection of gnosticizing heretics
d) Gevurah as an attribute of God in various benedictions based on biblical verses
e) Gevurah in contemplations on maaseh bereshit and on the supernal world
f) Transformations of the Righteous into Angelic Powers
aa) The Elevation of Moses in Mekhilta de RI: A Model for Emulation?
bb) The Transformation of the Righteous Ones in the Future in Sifre Devarim
4. Mip-pi ha-gevurah as a technical term referring to the unique authority of the
A) Sifre Devarim, Piska 41 and pSanhedrin Fol. 50b
B) Sifra on Leviticus
C) Mip-pi hag-gevurah traditions in the Bavli
D) Mekhilta de Rabbi Ishmael: Applying the gevurah tradition in a
commentary on the narrative sequence "Exodus, Desert, Sinai"
5. Gevurah and Divine Salvation in History
A) Gevurah and Combat-Motif in Mekhilta de RI
B) Two Models of Expectation of God's Return Into History: A Homily About Human
Influence On "The Power" (Pesikta de Rav Kahana) and Its Counterpart in 3. Enoch
It will become evident that in some passages familiarity with more than one tradition about gevurah is assumed and that, where this is the case, the combination of such a variety of connotations achieves a creative literary synthesis and an innovative meaning. Thus the word/attribute becomes a literary device.
Where applicable, material from Mekhilta is discussed after the passages from Yerushalmi and Bavli. The parallels between Mekhilta and Amoraic literature are more easily explained if we assume that Mekhilta was familiar with the traditions about prayer and divine revelation found so frequently in the amoraic compilations than if we assumed that Bavli focused on one (mip-pi hag-gevurah), Yerushalmi on the other (prayer) tradition they knew or extrapolated from Mekhilta only to "demythologize" them in some fashion. It is more likely that the authorships of the applicable parts of Mekhilta were familiar with gevurah as a divine epithet associated with revelation and used it to dramatize the sequence of events from the parting of the Reed Sea to the revelation at Sinai. Mekhilta kept the major traditional connotations and meanings of gevurah and historicized them in his commentary on the narrative of the Exodus. The juxtaposition with the Torah-based theodicy of Pesikta de Rav Kahana and its counterpart in 3. Enoch shows a concern common to Mekhilta and these documents: the quest for the right attitude towards God's presence in history. Furthermore, if our analysis of the passages from Mekhilta is accurate, some layers of the text contain ideas that can be linked to Hekhalot-type visionary practice. This brings at least those passages from Mekhilta to which this applies closer to 3. Enoch.
1 Cf. Yosef Dan in: Mysticism, magic, and kabbalah in Ashkenazi Judaism,
(ed. Karl Erich Grozinger and Joseph Dan)
2Cf. Thomas M. Krapf, Die Priesterschrift und die vorexilische Zeit. Yehezkel Kaufmanns
vernachlässigter Beitrag zur Geschichte der biblischen Religion,
Freiburg/Switzerland: Universitätsverlag; G öttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1992
[Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 119]
3Cf. Jer 51:30 and bYoma 71a (see below)
4 Epithet means a name of God or a term standing for the divine persona expressing a specific mode of His manifestation or a distinct aspect of His being as experienced by us. A. Marmorstein distinguishes ninety-one such "synonyms for God." A. Marmorstein, The Old Rabbinic Doctrine of God. I. The Names and Attributes of God, first published in 1920, New York: Ktav, 1968, p.55
5I follow a common literary analysis of the Exodus narrative that has been presented, for example, by Neil Forsyth, The old enemy : Satan and the combat myth (Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, 1987) and Jon D. Levenson, Creation and the Persistence of Evil. The Jewish Drama of Divine Omnipotence (New York: Harper & Row, 1987)
6Along with "great" and "awesome," cf. Dtn 10 and Neh 9 and see below on pBer 11c, pMeg 74c, and bYoma 69b
7 I use two editions: J.Z.Lauterbach (Philadelphia: JPS, 1949), quoted as L (Roman numerals for volume, Arabic for page), and H. S.Horovitz/I.A.Rabin (Frankfurt, 1931), quoted as H. The provenance of Mekhilta de-RI has been disputed since the appearance of Ben Zion Wacholder, "The Date of the Mekilta de-Rabbi Ishmael," HUCA 39/1968: 117-144. See (in chronological order) Günter Stemberger, "Die Datierung der Mekhilta, Kairos 31/1979: 81-118, Menahem Kahana, "The Critical Editions of Mekhilta" in: Tarbiz 55/1985: 489-524, Jacob Neusner, Mekhilta According to Rabbi Ishmael. An Introduction to Judaism's First Scriptural Encyclopaedia (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988) p. 24, idem, Review of Daniel Boyarin, Intertextuality, in: JSJ 21/1990: 254-258, idem, The Canonical History of Ideas: The Place of the So-called Tannaitic Midrashim, Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1990; critically reviewed by Daniel Boyarin, "On the Status of the Tannaitic Midrashim" in: JAOS 112,3 (1992): 455-465. Despite this debate and its far reaching implications one still finds contemporary scholars who treat Mekhilta de-RI wholesale as testimony to early rabbinic midrash; see, e.g., Beate Ego, "Gottes Weltherrschaft und die Einzigkeit seines Namens" in: Martin Hengel/Anna Maria Schwemer (ed.), Königsherrschart Gottes und himmlischer Kult im Judentum, Urchristentum und in der hellenistischen Welt (Tübingen: Mohr, 1991), p. 257