Jewish Narratives of Sacrifice and Violence in Late Antiquity
As Ra‘anan Boustan observes, sacrificial cult remained the dominant paradigm for religious piety among Jews and Christians, despite the absence of sacrificial practices in both contexts. Reinvigorated in discourses of martyrdom, blood remained a charged site of discursive contact, ritual contestation and exegetical competition. Comparing two contemporaneous narratives from late antiquity, rabbinic accounts of the death of Zechariah the prophet and the Story of the Ten Martyrs, Boustan observes that sublimated violence, while relevant to both texts, cannot explain the attitudes adopted to sacrificial practice. In retellings of the story of Zechariah, human and animal victims fail to provide the redemption Israel needs. By contrast, in the Story of the Ten Martyrs, heroic rabbis are represented as sacrificial victims who willingly lay down their lives to atone for Israel’s sin. Quite different in their approach, these texts nevertheless participate in a common project of wresting control over the meaning and function of righteous human blood in the context of an increasingly hegemonic Roman-Christian culture.
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