A Roadmap to the Heavens: An Anthropological Study of Hegemony Among Priests, Sages and Laymen

A Roadmap to the Heavens: An Anthropological Study of Hegemony Among Priests, Sages and Laymen

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Sigalit Ben-Zion

Series: Judaism and Jewish Life
ISBN: 9781934843147 (hardcover)
Pages: 368 pp.
Publication Date: December 2008

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A Roadmap to the Heavens challenges readers to rethink prevailing ideas about the social map of Jewish society during the Tannaitic period (70 CE–220 CE). New insights are made possible by applying anthropological theories and conceptual tools. In addition, social phenomena are better understood by comparing them to similar social phenomena in other cultures, regardless of time and space. 

This book explores the rich and complex relationships between the sages, priests, and laymen who competed for hegemony in social, cultural, and political arenas. The struggle was not simply a case of attempting to displace the priestly elite by a new scholarly elite. Rather, in the process of constituting a counter-hegemony, the attitude of the sages towards the priests entailed ambivalent psychological mechanisms, such as attraction–rejection, imitation–denial, and cooperation– confrontation. This study further reveals that to achieve political and social power, the sages used the established hegemonic priestly discourse to undermine the existing social structure. 

The innovative discovery of this monograph is that while the sages professed a new social order based on intellectual achievement, they retained elements of the old order, such as family attribution, group nepotism, endogamy, ritual purity and impurity, and secret knowledge. Thus, social mobility based on education was available only to privileged social classes. Although the sages resisted the priestly hegemony and attempted to disengage from it, they could not free themselves from the shackles of the priestly discourse and praxis. 


Sigalit Ben-Zion received her PhD in 2006 from Trondheim University, Norway in comparative religion with a specialization in social anthropology.


A fascinating insight into the social structure and dynamics of the Tannaitic period. . . . Dr. Ben-Zion creates an intriguing typology of the processes of identity formation, full of ambivalence, contradictions, and challenges. The book itself is well written, integrates theoretical and empirical material, and sheds light on a topic not hitherto examined from an anthropological point of view. In my opinion, it is an excellent example of the confluence of history and anthropology at the center of our discipline.
— Eyal Ben-Ari, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
This is an important work at the intersection of anthropology, history, and the theory of religion. . . . By applying various anthropological theories, Sigalit Ben-Zion opens up a dynamic landscape of identity formation among various groups, such as Priests and Sages. Dr. Ben-Zion’s ground-breaking work in the field of Jewish studies should engage a wide readership.
— Leif Manger, University of Bergen