Demons in the Details Demonic Discourse and Rabbinic Culture in Late Antique Babylonia (University of California Press, 2022).
The Babylonian Talmud is full of stories of demonic encounters and laws that attempt to regulate those encounters. In this book, Sara Ronis takes the reader on a journey across the rabbinic canon, exploring how Late Antique rabbis imagined, feared, and controlled demons. Ronis contextualizes the Talmud’s thought within the rich cultural matrix of Sasanian Babylonia, putting rabbinic thinking in conversation with Sumerian, Akkadian, Ugaritic, Syriac Christian, Zoroastrian, and Second Temple Jewish texts about demons to delve into the interactive communal context in which the rabbis created boundaries between the human and the supernatural, and between themselves and other religious communities. Demons in the Details explores the wide range of approaches that the rabbis took to their neighbors’ beliefs and practices, out of which they created a profoundly Jewish demonology.
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“A fascinating study bursting with insights into the diversity of ideas about demons and religious difference across antiquity. Sara Ronis demonstrates that rabbis constructed themselves as powerful and important masters of the demonic denizens of their world in ways that affirmed rabbinic power, authority, and creativity. By treating the rabbis as members of a scholastic elite, in conversation with other religious and philosophical communities in Sasanian Babylonia, Demons in the Details is at the cutting edge of contemporary rabbinic scholarship. It uses the lens of demonology to illuminate the writings of the sages and concomitantly the wider ancient Mediterranean world.”—Kimberly B. Stratton, author of Naming the Witch: Magic, Ideology, and Stereotype in the Ancient World
“Sara Ronis’s determination to take seriously the diversity of cultural contexts that are necessary for understanding Babylonian rabbinic literature is salutary, and her study is superior to many earlier, more one-sided attempts.”—Richard Kalmin, Theodore R. Racoosin Professor of Talmud and Rabbinics, The Jewish Theological Seminary
“This is a well-researched and much-needed project that contributes tremendously to our understanding of rabbinic culture and how it fits into its surrounding and preceding cultures. In it, Sara Ronis compares demons in the Babylonian Talmud to their near and distant relatives throughout Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean. If you thought all demons were alike or all societies related to demons in the same way, this book will be an eye-opener.”—David Brodsky, Chair, Department of Judaic Studies, Brooklyn College, CUNY