Leviticus Rabbah 13:5 (part three)

The pig as a symbol of Rome
5th CE
Syria Palaestina
Literary genre: 
Title of work: 
Leviticus Rabbah

Leviticus Rabbah 13:5 is a long midrashic unit on the theme of the four kingdoms, and especially the fourth, final, and harsher kingdom, Rome. More about this midrashic unit, as well as discussion of the dating and context of the identification of Rome with the ḥazir (the Hebrew for “a boar” or “a pig”) can be found in the commentary for Leviticus Rabbah 13:5 (part one). To understand the context of our passage, it is also recommended that one looks at the previous passage within this midrash in the commentary for Leviticus Rabbah 13:5 (part two). Our section aims to demonstrate that Rome, as the fourth kingdom, will be the last one. Thus, while the previous sections of Leviticus Rabbah 13:5, which used the imagery of the impure animals, mostly focused on the past or the present, our passage looks at the future to offer consolation: Rome will be the last kingdom that rules over Israel. As this passage is the closing section of chapter 13 of Leviticus Rabbah, it fits well with the midrash’s pattern of concluding most chapters with something good, often referring to the future deliverance of Israel.     

To introduce the notion that Rome will be the last kingdom, the midrash uses the identification of the four empires with the camel, the rock badger, the hare, and the pig as well as the phrases: “For it chews (ma‘ala) the cud (gerah)” or “it does not chew (ma‘ala) the cud (gerah)” that appear in Leviticus 11:

“(2) From among all the land animals, these are the creatures that you may eat. (3) Any animal that has divided hoofs and is cleft-footed and chews the cud—such you may eat. (4) But among those that chew (ma‘ala) the cud (gerah) or have divided hoofs, you shall not eat the following: the camel, for even though it chews the cud (gerah), it does not have divided hoofs; it is unclean for you. (5) The rock badger, for even though it chews (ma‘ala) the cud (gerah), it does not have divided hoofs; it is unclean for you. (6) The hare, for even though it chews (ma‘ala) the cud (gerah), it does not have divided hoofs; it is unclean for you. (7) The pig, for even though it has divided hoofs and is cleft-footed, it does not chew (ma‘ala) the cud (gerah); it is unclean for you. (8) Of their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall not touch; they are unclean for you” (Leviticus 11:2-8, based on NRSV).

The midrash uses the similarity between the sound of the Hebrew word gerah (cud) and the word garera which means “she dragged” as the root g-r-r denotes “to drag” or “to carry with it.” Thus, since the phrase “For it chews the cud (gera)” is stated in Leviticus 11:4-6 regarding the camel, the rock badger, and the hare, which according to Leviticus Rabbah 13:5 symbolize Babylonia, Media and Greece respectively, the midrash claims that each of these kingdoms brought about another kingdom in its wake (Sections A-C). The focus of the midrash, however, is on the current kingdom: Rome.

In Section D after identifying the “pig” with Edom (see more in Leviticus Rabbah 13:5 [part one]), the midrash uses Leviticus 11:7, which states that “It does not chew the cud” (NRSV) to conclude that no other kingdom would come after it. In Section E, the midrash goes further, using the word ḥazir (pig), as its root -z-r in the hiphil conjugation means “to restore” or “to give back.” The midrash posits that Rome is called ḥazir (pig) because it is going to restore the crown or the wreath that symbolizes victory and power to its real owner, namely the Jews. In the Roman world, a crown – whether durable or of laurels – symbolized victory in war and was associated with the imperial cult (Ando, Imperial Ideology, p. 279-281). This symbol appears on coins and several other artifacts that bear depictions of emperors and gods alike wearing laurel crowns as an emblem of honor. As Robin M. Jensen writes: “Laurel crowns were awarded to conquering generals and, later, a decoration generally reserved for emperors. In Roman iconography, the goddess of victory, Victoria, usually holds the crown just above the head of a victorious general or emperor” (Jensen, “The Emperor Cult,” p. 164; her article also discusses the use of the crown in Christian iconography). A crown as a symbol for Roman imperial power is mentioned in Tosefta Avodah Zarah 6:1 and Jerusalem Talmud, Avodah Zarah 3:1, 42c (part one).

The midrash acknowledges that for now, Rome (or Christian Rome) wears the crown, thereby possessing the power. However, Rome is called ḥazir (“pig”) because she will give back or restore the crown to Israel. The midrash then cites Obadiah 1:21 to further prove that the imminent fall of Rome will be the end of Israel’s submission to foreign empires: “The saviors will go up to Mount Zion, to judge the mountain of Esau; and the kingdom shall be the Lord’s” (Obadiah 1:21). The use of this verse’s reference to the future fall of Rome appears also in Jerusalem Talmud Avodah Zarah 2:1, 40c and Genesis Rabbah 78:14 (Theodor-Albeck edition, p.  935) and perhaps in Mekhilta de Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai 17:14. In addition, this verse was integrated into the Rosh Hashanah (New Year) liturgy. The author of Leviticus Rabbah chose to integrate this verse at the end of its treatment of the four kingdoms: Rome, which is identified with Edom, Esau, and the pig, will eventually fall, and the Jews will be under its yoke no more.   

Bibliographical references: 

“The Emperor Cult and Christian Iconography”

Jensen, Robin M.article-in-a-bookRome and Religion: A Cross-Disciplinary Dialogue on the Imperial Cult Jeffrey Brodd , Jonathan L. Reed“The Emperor Cult and Christian Iconography” AtlantaSociety of Biblical Literature2011
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