October 11th, 2009


Death, the Angel of

It says here in this book I’m reading:

The [Babylonian] talmudic anecdotes reflect an attitude to death on the part of the rabbis very different from those attributed to the Palestinian sages R. Yehoshua b. Levi and R. Hanina b. Papa, who defy the Angel of Death and where R. Yehoshua b. Levi manages to outwit him and enter paradise bodily (B. Ketubot 77b).
—Yaakov Elman, “Middle Persian Culture and Babylonian Sages” in The Cambridge Companion to The Talmud and Rabbinic Literature, (ed.) Charlotte Elisheva Fonrobert and Martin S. Jaffee, page 173.

This raises an image in my mind of R. Yehoshua b. Levi giving the Angel of Death a Bronx cheer and saying something like, “Hoo-ha nasty old Angel of Death! I fooled you! You didn’t get me—I brought my body along!”

I imagine, however, that some might call this a rather Pyrrhic victory…