The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

On the Rhetoric of Vineyards in Midrash Aggadah and in Christian Sources

Vineyards provide a major metaphor for Aggadic discourse and also serve as point of departure in aggadic midrash and in Rabbinic parables. They either represent life, Torah study, its toils and rewards, or the social world of the Sages. Remarkably, however, we do find a recurring rhetoric throughout non-related sources (Shir haShirim Rabba 1:6, 4-5; Avot deRabbi Nathan a, 20; t.Sukka 3:15) and independent of the specific Biblical verse (SoS 1:6; Isaiah 5:1-7) or the parable’s application (nimshal), connecting the metaphor “vineyard” with Temple imagery, Temple related religious acts (e.g. tithes) and communal religio-political presences connected with the Temple. This phenomenon requires a diachronic elucidation of the vineyard metaphor. Moreover, these rhetorical motifs pop up as well in Christian sources of the late Roman and Byzantine era, such as Matthew 21:33-46; Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. 34.2; Origen, Scholia in Canticum Canticorum 130-132 and Eusebius, Commentaria in Esiam. While some of these parallels may be simply due to apologetical or polemical interactions between Jews and Christians of Late Antiquity (e.g. in Caesarea), this paper assesses this strand as a shared rhetoric of material vineyards ‘blended’ with the religious and social dimensions of the Temple and handed down as a literary topos. It is through the Temple lens that the public ramifications of the vineyard metaphor for Jewish communities and their leadership become apparent.