The Ring of Polycrates in Ancient Religious Narratives
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At any rate, the role of the “ring of Polycrates” in this constellation of sources suggests some intriguing comparisons that we might consider drawing with more straightforward instances of canonical texts, and with the hermeneutical processes by means of which religious communities continue to grapple with those texts in order to uphold their relevance for subsequent generations. Historical religions often strive to imbue their present versions1 with a sense of authenticity that draws nourishment from the connection to their formative documents (or other foundational entities).2 When discussing the rabbis’ use of an episode from Herodotus, we are clearly dealing with a different kind of process. It cannot be classified as an example of a canonical text that was revered by Jewish tradition, let alone one that was sanctified or deemed to be the product of a supernatural revelation. Nevertheless, it is not inconceivable that for the circles that produced the tale of Joseph the Sabbath-honorer, familiarity with certain elements from the “great books of world literature” might have been regarded as a desirable distinguishing mark of a cultured individual, and one that could be expected to exist among the audience to which they were directing the narration.3 As far as I can tell, we have no way of determining whether or not the authors of the respective rabbinic adaptations expected their audiences to be familiar with the original passages from Herodotus or Philostratus or with the versions of those texts that were in circulation in ← 139 | 140...
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