When Yosa Meshita Took the Temple Menorah: A Rabbinic Legend.
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The rabbis of late antiquity were well aware that after the destruction of the Second Temple the most precious “sacred vessels” had been taken to Rome.1 Classical rabbinic literature records numerous legends of the destruction including discussions of the fate of the sacred vessels, including “a golden menorah.” At times preserving distant memories of the war, these stories are most significant for the ways that later generations lived with and interpreted the continuing meaning of this national trauma. In this essay I will employ anthropological/folklore approaches better to understand rabbinic texts. That is, I examine the human characters who wrote, performed, heard, and read these traditions in late antiquity (Hasan-Rokem 2003; Fine in press). I focus on the authorship and reception of rabbinic tradition by late antique audiences by undertaking a “thick description” of a story preserved in Genesis Rabbah, a collection of homiletical midrashim assembled in the Galilee near the turn of the fifth century CE. I focus on the treason of a certain Yosa Meshita, suggesting contexts in which this tale “lived,” situating it within the world in which it was authored, performed, and achieved its literary form.
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