SOAS Research Online

A Free Database of the Latest Research by SOAS Academics and PhD Students

[skip to content]

Hezser, Catherine (2018) 'Self-Control in a World Controlled by Others: Palestinian Rabbinic 'Asceticism' in Late Antiquity.' Religion in the Roman Empire, 4 (1). pp. 9-27.

Text - Published Version
Download (746kB) | Preview


The article suggests that asceticism can best be understood as a religious form of self-control, of using one's mind to control one's body. The control of the senses can serve as a category that allows us to compare rabbinic 'ascetic' behaviours with those associated with ancient Christianity. Askesis and self-control were already present in Hellenistic culture on which both rabbinic Judaism and ancient Christianity are based. Self-control for the purpose of living in accordance with what one perceived to be God's will and for the avoidance of what was seen as transgression was a dominant feature of rabbinic Judaism. In Palestinian rabbinic texts it is mentioned in connection with the senses of hearing, seeing, touching, and tasting. In contrast to the radical self-control of the desert fathers, rabbis propagated a lifestyle of self-awareness and discretion, in which every detail of ordinary life and behaviour had to be closely examined and adjusted to one's Torah-based beliefs. Rather than constructing ideals, rabbis faced reality and adjusted to it pragmatically. Although rabbis may have hoped that many other Jews would follow their rulings, in reality, this is most likely for their disciples and sympathisers. Therefore rabbinic self-control should also be seen as a marker of a specifically rabbinic identity and as a response to Romanisation.

Item Type: Journal Article
SOAS Departments & Centres: Departments and Subunits > School of History, Religions & Philosophies > Department of Religions & Philosophies
ISSN: 21994463
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 25 May 2018 15:38

Altmetric Data


Download activity - last 12 monthsShow export options
Downloads since deposit
6 month trend
6 month trend
Accesses by country - last 12 monthsShow export options
Accesses by referrer - last 12 monthsShow export options

Repository staff only

Edit Item Edit Item