From Ridicule to Ritual: Standardization and Canonization Processes in the Transmission of Purim Parodic Literature

Roni Cohen


ABSTRACT: This article examines the reception history of parodies of the Talmud written for Purim. Since the twelfth century, as far as we know from the surviving witness, parodic literature has been one of the main literary expressions for the celebration of Purim. The most distinctive examples for this genre are parodies of the Talmud, most prominently Kalonymos ben Kalonymos’ Massekhet Purim and Gersonides’ Megillat Setarim, both written in the early decades of the 14th century. This article will demonstrate how the reception history of parodic literature for Purim portrays almost an opposite picture to the common perception of transmission and reception of pre-modern non-canonical texts in the Jewish world. Unlike other non-canonical texts, the medieval Purim parodies were copied and printed for over 400 years in the same way without changes in their contents or their comical elements. Moreover, in the 17th and the 18th centuries, these parodies inspired new parodic pieces that copied the same comical characteristics, originally written hundreds of years earlier, almost without referring to the time and place in in which they were written.

KEYWORDS: Purim – Parody – Jewish literature – Medieval literature – Book History – Reception History


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