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Immolating Emperors: Spectacles of Imperial Suffering and the Making of a Jewish Minority Culture in Late Antiquity

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This paper traces the historical development of the discourse of violent retribution in Jewish culture over the course of Late Antiquity. The paper argues that, although Jews had long engaged in anti-Roman rhetoric, Jewish anti-imperial sentiment intensified in the fifth to seventh centuries CE. This heightened level of antipathy toward the Roman state is perhaps best exemplified by a number of texts that present tableaux of graphic violence directed against the figure of the Roman emperor. The paper shows that these fantasies of revenge redeployed and inverted specific elements of Roman imperial ideology and practice, while at the same time internalizing the pervasive stereotype of Jews in sixth- and especially seventh-century Christian sources as violent troublemakers. The paper argues that, in attempting to assert some measure of control over the "symbolic weapons" of religious violence at play in their society, the Jewish creators of this vivid discourse of retributive justice colluded with their Christian counterparts in constructing the Jew as a member of an oppositional and even dangerous religious minority.

Affiliations: 1: University of California, Los Angeles


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