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A Classical Ethical Problem in Ancient Philosophy and Rabbinic Thought: The Case of the Shipwrecked*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 June 2013

Katell Berthelot*
Centre national de la recherche scientifique, Aix-Marseille University


The story found in Sifra Behar 5.3 and in the Babylonian Talmud, Baba Meṣi'a 62a, about two persons traveling in a desert and having a quantity of water that allows only one of them to reach civilization and survive, is well known and frequently referred to in books and articles dealing with Jewish ethics. The rabbinic texts raise the question: Should the travelers share the water and die together, or should the person who owns the water drink it in order to survive? This story reminds one of the case of the two shipwrecked men who grasp a plank that can bear the weight of only one person and therefore enables only one of them to reach the coast, a case referred to in philosophical texts from the Hellenistic and Roman periods. The similarities between the issues dealt with in the rabbinic texts and the Greco-Roman ones have indeed been noticed by several scholars working on rabbinic literature (whereas specialists of ancient philosophy generally ignore them). However, a systematic comparative analysis of the rabbinic tradition and the philosophical texts has not been undertaken so far, nor have previous studies paid much attention to the issues at stake within the Greco-Roman texts themselves, to their inner logic and relationships with one another.

Copyright © President and Fellows of Harvard College 2013 

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I would like to thank very warmly Marc Hirshman, Zeev Harvey, and Ron Naiweld for their helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper. Moreover, special thanks are due to Chaim J. Milikowsky, whose careful and acute critical reading has been of invaluable help to give this article its final shape. I alone bear the responsibility for any mistakes that may remain.


1 Among the many books and articles that refer to the story found in Sifra and b. Baba Meṣi'a in the context of a general reflection about Jewish ethics, without mentioning the Greek and Latin sources in any way, see in particular: Spero, Shubert, Morality, Halakha, and the Jewish Tradition (The Library of Jewish Law and Ethics 9; New York: Ktav and Yeshiva University Press, 1983) 120–26Google Scholar; Schwarzschild, Steven, The Pursuit of the Ideal (ed. Kellner, Menachem; Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990) 122, 128–32Google Scholar; Novak, David, Covenantal Rights: A Study in Jewish Political Theory (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2000) 125–28Google Scholar; Maccoby, Haim, The Philosophy of the Talmud (London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2002) 134–38Google Scholar.

2 Whereas Ben Peturi is of the opinion that they should share the water, Rabbi Aqiba favors the second solution. See the detailed presentation of the texts, below. The name “Ben Peturi” is also written Paturi, Petiri, and Petura.

3 See Bacher, Wilhelm, Die Agada der Tannaiten, Erster Band, Von Hillel bis Akiba. Von 30 vor bis 135 nach der gew. Zeitrechnung (2 vols.; 2nd ed.; Strasbourg: Trübner, 1903) 1:6062Google Scholar; Bergmann, Judah, “Die stoische Philosophie und die jüdische Frömmigkeit,” in Judaica. Festschrift zu Hermann Cohens siebzigstem Geburtstage (Berlin: Bruno Cassirer, 1912) 145–66Google Scholar; Kaminka, Aaron, “Yehudah veYavan beDarekhei haMelitzah vehaMusar” (“Judaea and Greece on the Paths of Sentences and Ethics”), Kneset 4 (1939) 345–64Google Scholar, esp. 352–53 [Hebrew]; Pines, Shlomo, “Two that were walking in a desert. . .,” in Studies in the History of Jewish Philosophy: The Transmission of Texts and Ideas (Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 1977) 911Google Scholar [Hebrew]; Lieberman, Saul, “How Much Greek in Jewish Palestine?,” in Biblical and Other Studies (ed. Altmann, Alexander; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1963) 123–41Google Scholar; Halevy, Elimelekh, HaAggadah hahistorit-biografit le-or meqorot yevaniim velatiniim (Historical and Biographical Aggadah in Light of Greek and Latin Sources) (Tel Aviv: Niv, 1975) 404–5Google Scholar [Hebrew]; Urbach, Ephraim E., Halakhah: Its Sources and its Development (Jerusalem: Yad leTalmud, 1984) 137–38Google Scholar [Hebrew]. For a summary of the conclusions reached by these scholars, see below, “History of Research.”

4 Unfortunately, the passage from the De re publica is lost. In any case, Cicero was not quoting Carneades, who did not write anything about this topic himself, but rather used a work written by Carneades's successor, Clitomachus, in which the disciple expounded his master's criticism of the Stoic notion of justice. See the fundamental article of Ferrary, Jean-Louis, “Le discours de Philus (Cicéron, De re publica III, 8–31) et la philosophie de Carnéade,” REL 55 (1977) 128–56Google Scholar.

5 In Diodorus 34/35.11, this situation is evoked as well, but between a son and his father: each refuses to save his own life at the cost of the other's, and both die. See Halevy, HaAggadah hahistorit-biografit, 405.

6 Translation by Bowen, Anthony and Garnsey, Peter in Lactantius: Divine Institutes (Translated Texts for Historians 40; Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2003) 313CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

7 On the Hellenistic philosophical schools, see A Companion to Ancient Philosophy (ed. Mary L. Gill and Pierre Pellegrin; Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2006) part 4 (esp. Carlos Lévy, “The New Academy and its Rivals,” 448–64, and Richard Bett, “Stoic Ethics,” 530–48); The Cambridge History of Philosophy in Late Antiquity (ed. Lloyd Gerson; 2 vols.; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010) vol. 1, (Carlos Lévy, “Cicero and the New Academy,” 39–62), and Brad Inwood, “Stoicism,” 126–39). For a more detailed presentation of Stoicism, see The Cambridge Companion to the Stoics (ed. Brad Inwood; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003).

8 On the controversy about justice between the New Academy and the Stoics, see Schofield, Malcolm, “Stoic Ethics,” in The Cambridge Companion to the Stoics, (ed. Inwood, Brad; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 233–56CrossRefGoogle Scholar, esp. 251–53.

9 On the concept of oikeiôsis, see, among the many publications dedicated to this complex notion: Pembroke, S. G., “Oikeiôsis,” in Problems in Stoicism (ed. Long, Anthony A.; London: Athlone Press, 1971) 114–49Google Scholar; Striker, Gisela, “The Role of Oikeiosis in Stoic Ethics,” OSAPh 1 (1983) 145–67Google Scholar; Long, Anthony A. and Sedley, David N., The Hellenistic Philosophers (2 vols.; Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1987) 1:350–54Google Scholar (no. 57H); Parente, Margherita Isnardi, “Ierocle stoico. Oikeiosis e doveri sociali,” ANRW 2.36.3 (1989) 2201–26Google Scholar; Blundell, Mary W., “Parental Nature and Stoic Οἰκείωσις,” Ancient Philosophy 10 (1990) 221–42CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Engberg-Pedersen, Troels, The Stoic Theory of Oikeiosis: Moral Development and Social Interaction in Early Stoic Philosophy (Studies in Hellenistic Civilization 2; Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 1990)Google Scholar; Lévy, Carlos, Cicero Academicus. Recherches sur les Académiques et sur la philosophie cicéronienne (Collection de l'Ecole Française de Rome 162; Rome: Ecole Française de Rome, 1992) 378–87Google Scholar; Schofield, Malcolm, “Two Stoic Approaches to Justice,” in Justice and Generosity: Studies in Hellenistic Social and Political Philosophy (ed. Laks, André and Schofield, Malcolm; Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1995) 191212CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Inwood, Brad, “L’oikeiôsis sociale chez Epictète,” in Polyhistor: Studies in the History and Historiography of Ancient Philosophy (ed. Algra, Keimpe A., van der Horst, Pieter W., and Runia, David T.; Leiden: Brill, 1996) 243–64Google Scholar; Bett, “Stoic Ethics,” 536–40.

10 Although virtue is a natural goal for human beings to achieve (according to Platonic philosophy), human beings are not naturally virtuous, in the sense that an effort must be made to attain virtue. A distinction must be made between nature in the normative sense and nature in the descriptive sense, nature as an ideal and nature as something innate. On this important distinction between two meanings of the term “nature,” see in particular Annas, Julia, “Aristotle on Human Nature and Political Virtue,” Review of Metaphysics 49 (1996) 731–53Google Scholar.

11 See Couissin, Pierre, “L'origine et l'évolution de l'ἐποχή,” REG 42 (1929) 373–97CrossRefGoogle Scholar; idem, “Le stoïcisme de la Nouvelle Académie,” Revue d'Histoire de la Philosophie 3 (1929) 241–76; Long, Anthony A., “Carneades and the Stoic telos,” Phronesis 12 (1967) 5990CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Ioppolo, Anna M., Opinione e scienza. Il dibattito tra Stoici e Accademici nel III e nel II secolo a. C. (Naples: Bibliopolis, 1986)Google Scholar; Lévy, Cicero Academicus, 266–76.

12 Jean-Louis Ferrary rightly writes: “Nous croyons dans ces conditions que Carnéade, lorsqu'il parlait non seulement pro iustitia mais encore contra iustitia, devait se considérer comme l'héritier, et non comme l'adversaire du Platon de la République” (We believe in this context that Carneades, when he spoke not only in favor of justice but also against it, must have considered himself the heir, and not the adversary, of Plato as he expresses himself in the Republic.) (“Le discours de Philus,” 151).

13 See Bastianini, Guido and Sedley, David N., “Commentarium in Platonis Theaetetum,” in Corpus dei papiri filosofici greci e latini (4 vols.; Florence: Olschki, 1995) 3:227562Google Scholar. See also Long and Sedley, Hellenistic Philosophers, 1:350–54 and 2:348–49 (no. 57H).

14 See Tarrant, Harold, “The Date of Anon. In Theaetetum,” CQ 33 (1983) 161–87CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

15 But Stoicism was diverse and evolved with the passing of time; it seems that a certain hierarchy in affections and duties was considered acceptable by some, at least from the first century b.c.e. onwards. However, one was still supposed to strive to achieve the ideal of an equal benevolence to all. See, for instance, Hierocles (a Stoic philosopher from the 2nd second century c.e.), in Long and Sedley, Hellenistic Philosophers, 1:347, 349–350 and 2:344, 347–348 (no. 57C and G).

16 [Text breaks off.] ACT 5.18–6.31; in Hellenistic Philosophers (trans. Long and Sedley) 1:350.

17 According to the author of ACT, Plato himself derived justice not from oikeiôsis but from “assimilation to God,” ὁμοίωσις τῶ θεῶ (a Platonic expression found in Theaetetus 176b); see ACT 7.14–19, in Bastianini and Sedley, “Commentarium,” 278.

18 See, for instance, Pines, “Two that were walking,” 11.

19 See Anthologie grecque (trans. Guy Soury; Collections des Universités de France; 13 vols.; Paris: Belles Lettres, 1957) 7:107–8 (no. 269).

20 Diodorus 3.40.4–7 (trans. C. H. Oldfather; LCL; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967) 203–7. This reference is mentioned by Halevy in, but he does not connect the description found in Diodorus with Qohelet Rabbah 11.1. In his chapter on “Sea Legends and Tales,” Raphael Patai quotes the story from Qoh. R. 11.1 but does not analyze it or connect it with any Greco-Roman source (The Children of Noah: Jewish Seafaring in Ancient Times [Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1998] 113) (HaAggadah hahistorit-biografit [Historical and Biographical Aggadah] 405).

21 See the masterwork of Carlos Lévy, Cicero Academicus, and The Cambridge Companion to Cicero, due to appear in April 2013.

22 In the first two books of his De officiis, Cicero closely follows Panaetius's work On Obligations, but not in the third, since Panaetius left his work incomplete. On Cicero's De officiis, see Cicero, On Duties (ed. and trans. Miriam T. Griffin and E. Margaret Atkins; Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1991); Dyck, Andrew R., A Commentary on Cicero, De officiis (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996)Google Scholar.

23 Cicero, On Obligations (trans. Peter G. Walsh; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008) 114–15. See also Cicero, De officiis (trans. Walter Miller; LCL; London: Heinemann, 1928) 363–67 [italics in original].

24 Lieberman, “How Much Greek in Jewish Palestine?,” 127.

25 That this passage in particular reflects Cicero's own ideas is shown by § 33, in which Cicero makes clear that Panaetius had not written anything about these topics.

26 “Nature” here is again to be understood as something normative, as the ideal that human beings are supposed to pursue, rather than as a given (see n. 10, above).

27 Off. 3.6.29, in Cicero, On Obligations (trans. Walsh) 93–94.

28 In most editions it is therefore put in square brackets.

29 Off. 3.6.29 in Cicero, On Obligations, 94 (trans. Walsh; translation slightly modified). See also Cicero, De officiis (trans. Miller) 297–99.

30 See also Cicero, On Obligations (trans. Walsh) 185.

31 Concerning Cicero, Anthony Long writes, “Cicero's honestum is very much his own remodelling of a traditional Roman concept” (“Cicero's Politics in De Officiis,” in Justice and Generosity: Studies in Hellenistic Social and Political Philosophy; Proceedings of the Sixth Symposium Hellenisticum [ed. André Laks and Malcolm Schofield; Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1995] 213–40, at 218). For a different appreciation of the originality of Cicero's concept of justice, see Margaret Atkins, E., “‘Domina et Regina Virtutum’: Justice and Societas in De Officiis,” Phronesis 35 (1990) 258–89CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

32 See Cicero, Off. 3.15.63; Goulet, Richard, “Hécaton de Rhodes,” in Dictionnaire des philosophes antiques. D'Eccélos à Juvénal (ed. Goulet, Richard; 5 vols.; Paris: Editions du CNRS, 2005) 3:526–27Google Scholar.

33 Sifra is connected with the school of Rabbi Aqiba, even if it was augmented later on by lengthy passages from the school of Rabbi Yishmael; the passage we are dealing with belongs to the Aqiban layer of the midrash. On the redactional history of Sifra, see Stemberger, Günter, “Zur Redaktionsgeschichte von Sifra,” in Approaches to Ancient Judaism: New Series (ed. Neusner, Jacob; 16 vols.; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1997) 11:3982Google Scholar; idem, “Sifra—Tosefta—Yerushalmi. Zur Redaktion und frühen Rezeption von Sifra,” JSJ 30 (1999) 277–311; idem, “Leviticus in Sifra,” in Encyclopaedia of Midrash (ed. Jacob Neusner and Alan J. Avery-Peck; 2 vols.; Leiden: Brill, 2005) 1:429–47. Stemberger proposes a diachronic approach and distinguishes three main stages of redaction; according to him the third one should be dated between the fifth and eighth centuries. The story of the travelers may have been added during the second redactional stage, before the end of the third century. As for Jacob Neusner, he promotes a synchronistic approach; see his Sifra in Perspective: The Documentary Comparison of the Midrashim of Ancient Judaism (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988) 11–17, and Uniting the Dual Torah: Sifra and the Problem of the Mishnah (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1990) 2–8. See also Menahem Kahana, “The Halakhic Midrashim,” in The Literature of the Sages: Second Part: Midrash and Targum. . . (ed. Shmuel Safrai, Zeev Safrai, Joshua Schwartz, and Peter J. Tomson; 2 vols.; Assen: Van Gorcum, 2006) 2:78–87.

34 Translations are from the nrsv.

35 Literally: “commented on.”

36 Here I adopt Warren Zeev Harvey's translation of the word qiton (= kothon), which is a Greek loanword; see Harvey, Warren Z., “Rabbinic Attitudes to Philosophy,” in “Open thou mine eyes . . .”: Essays on Aggadah and Judaica Presented to Rabbi William G. Braude on His Eightieth Birthday and Dedicated to His Memory (ed. Blumbert, Herman al.; Hoboken, N.J.: Ktav, 1992) 83101Google Scholar, at 87.

37 See Sifra (ed. I. Weiss; Vienna: J. Schlossberg, 1862) 109c. This passage is missing from ms Vaticanus 66 (the best manuscript), since the manuscript breaks off at the very beginning of the parashah Behar and does not contain the end of Sifra. Conversely, ms Vaticanus 31 does contain the passage on the travelers in the desert but differs only slightly and not significantly from Weiss's edition. On the text of Sifra and the different manuscripts/editions, see Kahana, “The Halakhic Midrashim,” 80–83.

38 Baba Meṣi'a 62a, according to ms Hambourg 165 (12th cent.); in The Babylonian Talmud Seder Nezikin (ed. Isaac Epstein; trans. Harry Freedman; 4 vols.; London: Soncino Press, 1935) 1:369 (slightly modified).

39 Bacher, Wilhelm, Die Agada der Tannaiten. Erster Band. Von Hillel bis Akiba, Von 30 vor bis 135 nach der gew. Zeitrechnung (2 vols.; 2nd ed.; Strasbourg: Trübner, 1903) 1:60Google Scholar.

40 Bergmann, Judah, “Die stoische Philosophie und die jüdische Frömmigkeit,” in Judaica. Festschrift zu Hermann Cohens siebzigstem Geburtstage (Berlin: Bruno Cassiter, 1912) 145–66Google Scholar, at 160.

42 Aaron Kaminka, “Yehudah veYavan beDarekhei haMelitzah vehaMusar,” 352–53. In another article, “Les rapports entre le rabbinisme et la philosophie stoïcienne” (REJ 82 [1926] 233–52), Kaminka does not tackle the issue of the story of the two persons traveling in the desert.

43 Admittedly, Ben Peturi is not a well-known Tannaitic figure. At least according to the Babylonian Talmud, he seems to have lived roughly at the time of Rabbi Aqiba, that is, in the first half of the second century. Or, since Rabbi Aqiba is responding to his view, he may have lived slightly before this era.

44 See Kaminka, “Yehudah veYavan” (“Judaea and Greece”) 353 n. 8. It is highly improbable that Panaetius's name or those of his disciples could have been remembered in connection with this issue by later rabbinic authors. In my opinion, their knowledge of the Hellenistic philosophical debates around this issue was much vaguer than that (see the conclusion).

45 Shlomo Pines, “Two that were walking in a desert. . .,” 11. A number of Stoic philosophers were from the eastern Mediterranean, which is a point worth mentioning in the context of possible connections between rabbis and Greek philosophical ideas, even if concrete, precise evidence is generally lacking (rabbinic texts often refer to philosophers but do not mention their names or connections with a specific school).

46 Pines identified it as a Stoic source, possibly stemming from Hecato's book On Obligations (part 6).

47 See n. 3, above.

48 HaAggadah hahistorit-biografit, 404–5.

49 Halakhah, 137–38.

50 Recently Catherine Hezser has published an article in which she refers to this debate about the relationship between self-interest and concern for the other, but only in passing; she basically echoes Pines's conclusion that the rabbinic story has a Stoic origin (“Interfaces Between Rabbinic Literature and Greco-Roman Philosophy,” in The Talmud Yerushalmi and Graeco-Roman Culture [ed. Peter Schäfer and Catherine Hezser; 3 vols.; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1998–2002] 2:161–87, at 174). See also Warren Z. Harvey, “Rabbinic Attitudes to Philosophy,” 87.

51 According to Bacher, Ben Peturi chose “the absolutely ethical solution” (die absolut ethische Lösung [see Die Agada der Tannaiten. Erster Band. Von Hillel bis Akiba, 1:60]). In connection with the idea expressed by Ben Peturi, one may recall the discussion in t. Ter. 7.20 and the Jerusalem Talmud, Terumot 8.11 (46b), which asks whether it is permitted to sacrifice the life of one Jew in order to save the life of a Jewish community or group attacked by non-Jews, who are proposing to spare them all in exchange for one life. The first answer given is that it is better that they all die rather than surrender to the non-Jews even one soul of Israel. Although the context and the issues at stake very much differ from the ones evoked in the story of the travelers, the first answer and that of Ben Peturi rely on the same idea, that one cannot save the life of someone (or even the lives of several persons) at the cost of the life of one's fellow.

52 See Sifra on Lev 25:35bβ (ed. Weiss, 109b):

53 See in particular Gen. Rab. 34:14 (on Gen 9:6 and the prohibition of murder, based on man's creation in the image of God) and Avot of Rabbi Nathan B 26, where the golden rule is interpreted in connection with one's property.

54 See, for instance, m. Ned. 9.4; Sifre Deuteronomy 187, 235; t. Sotah 5.11.

55 See Sifra Qedoshim 4.12 (ed. Weiss, 89b); Gen. Rab. 24.7; y. Ned. 9.4 (41c).

56 Avot of Rabbi Nathan A 26. This is the same tradition as t. Sota 5.11, where the teaching is attributed to Rabbi Meir.

57 One could argue that Lev 19:18, for instance, does not require that one love one's neighbor to the point of dying rather than see him die.

58 See the discussion below. The rabbinic discussion around Lev 25:36 has to do with justice, not with love or self-sacrifice.

59 See Novak, Covenantal Rights, 126.

60 Kaminka, “Yehudah veYavan” (“Judaea and Greece”) 352–53.

61 See Novak, Covenantal Rights, 127: “Both Sages agree in general that all human lives are equal; they disagree when that equality leads to mutual death. For Rabbi Akibah, the priority is the saving of a human life, even if an unintended result of saving this life is to abandon that other life to death” [italics in original].

62 Lieberman, “How Much Greek,” 218.

63 See Urbach, Halakhah, 138.

64 See Lieberman, “How Much Greek,” 126–27: “None of the Rabbis suggested that the owner of the water should deliver it to the other person; for as soon as the water is surrendered, the other, on his part, must act in the same manner as the first.” Could it also be that this third possibility was not discussed because of its obvious similarities to Christian ethical teachings, which would recommend one traveler sacrifice his life on behalf of the other? For Ahad Ha'am, the third solution was indeed a Christian one, whereas Rabbi Aqiba's answer reflected true Jewish ethics: “Just as I have no right to ruin another man's life for the sake of my own, so I have no right to ruin my own life for the sake of another's. Both of us are men, and both our lives have the same value before the throne of justice” (“Judaism and the Gospels,” in Nationalism and the Jewish Ethics: Basic Writings of Ahad Ha'am [ed. Hans Kohn; New York: Schocken Books, 1962] 289–319, at 302; see also Rochelle L. Millen, “The Desert as Focus for Ethical Exploration: Ahad Ha'am and Baba Mezia 62A,” Shofar 17 [1998] 29–35). Similarly, Lieberman writes: “The problem posed by the Rabbis was: should a man give away his property upon which his very life depends (in our case, some of the water in his canteen) in order to prolong somebody else's life? Normally a man is master of his property, but he is never master of his life. Nobody has the right to decide that his own life is less important than the life of another single individual. . .. It is for this reason that Rabbi Akiba ruled: your life comes before the life of your brother; you are not supposed to give your life away with your own hands in order to save the life of another person” (“How Much Greek,” 125).

65 See also Maccoby, Philosophy of the Talmud, 135.

66 The discussion here also differs from the one found at the end of the tractate Horayot (13a) about whose life takes precedence in particular situations, such as when one should choose between the life of a man and the life of a woman. This passage also discusses the case of people in captivity and whether one should pay the ransom first for oneself, for one's father, or for one's teacher. The answer is that one should redeem oneself first, then one's teacher, and then one's father. I thank Marc Hirshman for indicating this reference to me.

67 Novak, Covenantal Rights, 127, 131. See also Schwarzschild, Pursuit of the Ideal, 131: “‘Your life comes first’. . .designates an experiential priority, not a moral one. . .. In short, the self has chronological, not ethical priority.”

68 See Sifra 4.12 (ed. Weiss, 89b) on Lev 19:18, where Rabbi Aqiba argues that a great principle in the Torah is “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” whereas Ben Azzai says that Gen 5:1 (referring to the creation of man in the image of God) is a greater principle. See also the parallel in Gen. Rab. 24.7, in which the order is reversed, so that Lev 19:18 is said to be a greater principle than Gen 5:1. I thank Zeev Harvey for calling my attention to this connection.

69 Babylonian Talmud Pesahim (ed. Isaac Epstein; trans. Harry Freedman; London: Soncino Press, 1938) 115.

70 However, the question of the respective usefulness of two persons to society and whose life would take precedence if a choice had to be made between them, is not utterly foreign to rabbinic literature. In b. Naz. 47b, one finds a case in which the criterion of usefulness for the nation is taken into account. But it is not debated by the people whose lives are at stake, and it remains a somewhat theoretical question: When Israel is involved in a war, whose life is to be saved first, the life of the high priest anointed for war or that of the priest who replaces him to perform the religious rites (‘avodah) in the temple? Because the survival of the people at large is at stake, the life of the high priest anointed for war takes precedence, even if the sanctity of the high priest performing the cult is greater. See also b. Hor. 13a, which refers to this baraita and discusses other cases as well.

71 Günter Stemberger, in his Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash (trans. Markus Bockmuehl; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996; the book was first published in German under the names of Hermann L. Strack and Günter Stemberger, who revised Strack's version), dates it from the 8th century; but see n. 74, below for an earlier dating.

72 For a specific example, see Berthelot, Katell, “Assistance to the Shipwrecked as a Paradigm of Humaneness in the Ancient World,” in The Quest for a Common Humanity: Human Dignity and Otherness in the Religious Traditions of the Mediterranean (ed. Berthelot, Katell and Morgenstern, Matthias; Leiden: Brill, 2011) 311–26CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

73 See also the Targum of Qoh 11:1, which states: “Extend your nourishing bread to the poor who go in ships on the surface of the water, for after a period of many days you shall find its reward in the world to come (or, according to some manuscripts: in this world and the world to come)” [italics in the original] (The Targum of Qohelet; trans. Peter S. Knobel; The Aramaic Bible 15; Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1991) 50. Noteworthy is the reference to the ship, which points to a common tradition with the midrash, but also the fact that, according to most manuscripts, the reward is not to be expected in this world any more (as in Qohelet Rabbah) but rather in the world to come. In addition, in the Babylonian Talmud one finds a story of shipwreck involving Rabbi Aqiba himself, who was rescued thanks to the plank of a ship (see b. Yebam. 121a), but the meaning of the story differs from that of the stories found in Qoh. Rab.

74 There are some interesting points of comparison between this story and the one told in Qoh. Rab. 1.7 (§ 3). The latter can also be found in Gen. Rab. 13.9 (on Gen 2:6, “But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground”), which quotes Qoh 1:7 (ed. Theodor-Albeck, 1:118). First and foremost, it features the same rabbis as in Qoh. Rab. 11.1, R. Eliezer and R. Joshua, who in this case are the ones traveling on the sea. Then, their boat runs aground in the middle of the sea as in the story told in Qoh. Rab. 11.1, and R. Eliezer says to R. Joshua: “We have not come here for (any other reason than) a test ().” But then the text merely mentions that they take some water with them from that place and go to Rome, where they use the water in a debate with the king. The purpose of the story in Gen. Rab. 13.9 is very different altogether from that in Qoh. Rab. 11.1, but one cannot refrain from identifying a common motif between the two stories, which also use the same expression, “a place where there is no flowing water” (). However, the fact of running aground in the middle of the sea plays a much more crucial role in the story told in Qoh. Rab. 11.1 than in the other passages. There are other texts in rabbinic literature featuring R. Eliezer and R. Joshua on a ship, but they focus on other issues, such as the Leviathan; see for instance b. B. Bat. 74b.

75 Italics in the original. Midrash Rabbah: Ruth, Ecclesiastes (ed. Harry Freedman and Maurice Simon; trans. A. Cohen; 10 vols.; 3rd ed.; London: Soncino Press, 1961) 8:284–85, modified according to ms Vaticanus 291, the most ancient complete manuscript that is extant. A critical edition of the first four chapters of Qohelet Rabbah has been produced by Marc Hirshman, under the title Midrash Qohelet Rabba: Chapters 1–4, Commentary (Ch. 1) and Introduction (Ph.D. diss., The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1983; Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms International, 1983), but there is as yet no critical edition of the whole extant text. For the Spanish translation (Las vanidades del mundo. Comentario rabínico al Eclesiastés [Estella: Verbo Divino, 2001]), María del Carmen Motos López proposes a text essentially founded on ms Vaticanus 291 (11b or 12) and on the Vilna edition. Another authoritative reference is Wachten, Johannes, Midrasch-Analyse. Strukturen im Midrasch Qohelet Rabba (Hildesheim: Olms, 1978)Google Scholar, which addresses the issue of the classification of the manuscripts, existing editions, and fragments of the Guenizah but stops short of editing the text itself. Marc Hirshman dates the work back to the end of the sixth or early seventh century c.e.

76 See Berthelot, “Assistance to the Shipwrecked.”

77 It is interesting in this respect to look at what Lactantius himself writes in the passage in which he quotes Carneades. He strongly attacks Carneades (who, he thinks, tried to refute both Plato and Aristotle!), mainly arguing that one has to define folly and wisdom differently, that true wisdom implies taking into consideration the perspective of eternal life, etc. As far as the story of the shipwrecked is concerned, Lactantius writes that one will rather die than kill. Then he refers to the Pythagoreans to defend the idea that it is legitimate (and not foolish) to die for a friend. So, he concludes, it is also a man's glory to die for the sake of innocence (that is, to die rather than to commit murder). Note that he does not conclude that it is praiseworthy to give the plank to the other shipwrecked traveler when one is fortunate enough to be in possession of it; he merely repeats that one should die rather than take the plank from the other by force. The example of Christ's sacrifice is not mentioned at all, and the ones who are referred to as examples of people ready to give their lives for someone else are the Pythagoreans, not the Christians. In this context, the Christians are presented as the ones who are ready to die not for a human being but for God (as martyrs), a stance comparable to that of Rabbi Aqiba. See Lactantius, Inst., 5.17.20–24.

78 As underlined by David Novak, Covenantal Rights, 126.

79 On theological rather than ethical issues, see Azzan Yadin, in which he convincingly argues that some Neo-Platonic philosophers and rabbinic sages opposed idols and that these “shared anxieties reflect shared (though not identical) theological commitments” (“Rabban Gamliel, Aphrodite's Bath, and the Question of Pagan Monotheism” JQR 96 [2006] 149–79, at 178). While agreeing with Catherine Hezser on the fact that “the assumption that the rabbis were well acquainted with particular philosophers and their doctrines is an argument from silence, for which no rabbinic evidence exists” (Hezser, “Interfaces between Rabbinic Literature,” 180)—a point with which I also agree as long as no specific evidence points to the contrary—Yadin brings into the discussion passages from the Mekhilta and the Mishnah that constitute an interesting exception.

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