Classica et rabbinica I: The bull of Phalaris and the Tophet

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The study of Classical motifs that made their way into rabbinic literature has been going apace for a century and a half now, but much remains to be done in this important and difficult field. The present paper will focus on two items only, namely, the brazen bull inside which the Sicilian tyrant Phalaris is said to have burned his enemies alive, and the grisly ritual by which the Carthaginians were said to sacrifice their own children. The two themes may be intimately connected, as it has often been suggested that the original Bull of Phalaris was some Sicilian adaptation of what went on in the Carthaginian Tophets. There might also be a connection between them within the rabbis' world as well, as it was for setting up such a Tophet in Jerusalem (among other actions which the Deuteronomistic historians found abominable) that Manasseh was said to have been punished by God in the instrument of torture whose appearance shall be examined below. Both connections, however, make little difference for the present study, for the two motifs did not enter the rabbis' world together, and their analysis poses quite different problems. We may therefore focus on each item separately.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)203-216
Number of pages14
JournalJournal for the Study of Judaism
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2000


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