Volume 14 (2018)
Joshua Ezra Burns
Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI, USA
This paper examines a curious trope in classical Latin literature suggesting that Jews habitually fast on the Sabbath. After assessing various arguments to the effect that the rumor was grounded in an otherwise unknown custom peculiar to the Jewish community of ancient Rome, the author contends that the alleged Sabbath fast was a cultural misperception. The conspicuous weekly withdrawal of Rome’s Jews from the city’s food trade signaled to certain gentile observers that their Jewish neighbors did not eat or drink on their day of rest. Based on empirical reasoning, that mistaken inference managed to take hold among Rome’s literati because it reinforced a common nativist perception of the irredeemable strangeness of the city’s foreign residents. Nevertheless, the liveliness of the rumor as a cultural meme speaks to the vitality of the genuine Jewish practices that informed it, namely the predilection of Rome’s Jews for ritually clean or kosher food and their avoidance of commerce on the Sabbath.
Matthew Oseka
Concordia Theological Seminary, Kowloon, Hong Kong