The ritual narrative genre in the Mishnah: The invention of the rabbinic past in the representation of temple ritual
This dissertation is the first thorough study of the narratives in the Mishnah that describe how rituals were performed in the past when the Temple still stood. Combining methods drawn from the scholarly study of the Mishnah, of narrative, and of ritual, this dissertation examines the characteristic ways in which the rabbis of the Mishnah represent past ritual. The dynamics of narrative and the rabbinic innovations in the telling of past ritual described here shed light on rabbinic assumptions about ritual, on the workings of rabbinic collective memory, and on rabbinic claims for authority in post-temple times.
I begin by grounding the claim that these narratives form a genre and make the argument for genre by describing the recurrent content, the use of introductory formulae, and the set of narrative features that recur throughout these texts. I go on to demonstrate that in contrast to earlier accounts of the same rituals, the rabbinic accounts in the Mishnah place emphasis on and ritualize entry and exit, they narrate the enactment of ritual as performance, and they insert the Court of temple times into a position of authority over Temple ritual.
The memory of the Court in a position of authority is tied to the memory of the Court and its members, expressed elsewhere in the Mishnah, as the predecessors of the rabbis. Thus I show that the rabbinic narration of past ritual can best be treated as collective memory. By remembering the Court in a position of authority over temple ritual, the rabbis are imagining this past institution in the image of the legal-ritual role they are attempting to construct for themselves in their present. This memory of the Court creates a past for this role. It gives meaning to and orients the rabbinic present. And it makes a claim for rabbinic authority over ritual law and practice in post-temple times.
Finally, I read a passage from Mishnah Yoma in light of all of my arguments made in the dissertation, in order to demonstrate the usefulness of my approach for reading and interpreting individual texts of the ritual narrative genre.
0751: Judaic studies