Drawing on rabbinic sources redacted in the early third and late fourth/ early fifth centuries, this paper tracks the intertwined lives of divine image-things and rabbis living in late Roman and Byzantine period Palestine. The paper argues that the religious image-things of others (or avodah zarah, in rabbinic terms) pressed in different ways on rabbinic notions of animation, materiality, agency, and representation, as well as on the boundaries between the thing, the human, and the divine. Additionally, the paper argues that while rabbis attempted to neutralize the claims of such image-things, in part by exposing their materiality, their excess nonetheless escaped such rabbinic efforts. Finally, the paper argues that in the fourth century, along with the “material turn” in the Roman world inspired by Christian engagement, we find not only a greater sense of the excess in the things of avodah zarah, but also a concomitant thingification of the rabbinic sage.
Archiv für Religionsgeschichte, Volume 17, Issue 1, Pages 91–122. December 1st, 2016.