Title: The Wise Jew and the Foreign King: Study of a Dialectic Narrative Motif in Ancient Jewish Texts
University: Université Catholique de Louvain
Supervisor: Prof. Jan Tavernier
The goal of our research project is the study and analysis of an over-looked literary motif despite its many occurrences throughout the ancient Jewish scriptures (Tanakh, Talmud and Midrash, as well as the works of Flavius Josephus): the encounter, opposition and dialogue between a figure of wisdom, incarnation of the Israelite spirituality and culture, and a royal character embodying the great civilizations culturally and geographically surrounding ancient Judah; this motif structures an antique Jewish identity and its ambivalent perspective concerning the major nations influencing and often dominating ancient Judah. Babylon, Persia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, Ethiopia and others are sometimes, but not always, depicted in opposition to the core of Jewish values: ancient Judaism opposes restrain and wisdom to the appetite for worldly pleasures and military conquest shown as characteristic of those powerful civilizations. We intend to show how entangled the Jewish texts concerning the great kings, Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar and Alexander the Great in particular, are linked to each other, not only by the theme and the form of discourse itself, but also by the latter rabbinical discussions that can be found in the Mishnah, giving its structure to a fundamental principle of ancient judaism: the inherently evil nature of kings, as opposed to the purity constitutive of prophets, and more generally the superiority of spiritual authority over political power.
Keywords: Mesopotamia, Judaism, Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar II, Persia, Medes