ABSTRACT: Jewish Violence in Antiquity: Three Dimensions

Roberta Rosenberg Farber and S. Fishbane (eds.), Jewish Studies in Violence, Lanham – Boulder: University Press of America, 2007, pp. 71-82  Meir Bar-Ilan


This paper aims to discuss violence in Jewish society, thought, religion and history in Biblical and post Biblical times, demonstrating the transition of the status of violence in this culture. A basic introduction discusses some of the historical background of Jewish society from Biblical to Talmudic times when under Roman rule.

The role of violence is demonstrated in three different aspects of Jewish sources: 1. Using violence as punishment; 2. Deheroisation of Biblical figures; 3. Crime and social deviation in daily life.

1. In Biblical criminal law there is a vast use of violence against all sorts of felonies, basically known as Lex Talionis. Not only that, but according to the Bible there are several other cases in which the transgressor should pay with his own life, such as in the case of the rebellious son and others. In Talmudic times none of these was in existence, that is, one observes a reluctance to use violence against transgressors, that is there is sublimation of the social measure against criminals.
2. The deheroisation process is easily seen in Talmudic sources: the heroes of Biblical times that were physical figures, warriors and men of the body became in Rabbinic sources, people of the book, learned Rabbis and heads of a Yeshiva. The new hero of the Rabbis represents the shift from political strength to spiritual leadership and rabbinic values.
3. The last discussion is devoted to violence in daily life and all sorts of testimonies have been collected to demonstrate the measure of daily violence, crime, murder and so on.

A social analysis is given at the end trying to evaluate the data gathered earlier as the role of violence in mentalitè as well as in the daily life of the Jewish People in Antiquity.