“Space, Place, and the Race for Power: Rabbis, Demons, and the Construction of Babylonia”
Demons were an important part of Late Antique life across religious divides. This article explores how the authors of the Babylonian Talmud “think with” the demonic to produce meaningful rabbinic spaces. In conversation with the work of Doreen Massey and Michel de Certeau, it presents four case studies in the Babylonian Talmud that shed light on how the Babylonian rabbis constructed their landscape by means of visible and invisible demons that only they were qualified to constrain. These case studies move from micro-spaces to macro- spaces, from particular buildings and fields to domestic and educational settings, to the entire province of Babylonia. The article argues that the Babylonian rabbis used demonic presence and absence to define the spatial boundaries of their world, mark their own rabbinic spaces as the center, and construct themselves as the true experts in dealing with demons – in opposition to their Palestinian rabbinic colleagues. The complexity and multivalence of the ways that the rabbis think about and with demons shed light on how the rabbis of Sasanian Babylonia constructed themselves as a particular and exclusive type of literary elite, and contribute to broader spatial discourses in religious studies as they relate to ancient texts.
Read the full article here with free access through November 30, 2017.