The Talmud Yerushalmi and Graeco-Roman Culture, Vol. 1. and the Talmud Yerushalmi and Graeco-Roman Culture, Vol. 2. (Reviews of Books)

By Eliav, Yaron Z. | The Journal of the American Oriental Society, January-March 2002 | Go to article overview

The Talmud Yerushalmi and Graeco-Roman Culture, Vol. 1. and the Talmud Yerushalmi and Graeco-Roman Culture, Vol. 2. (Reviews of Books)


Eliav, Yaron Z., The Journal of the American Oriental Society


The Talmud Yerushalmi and Graeco-Roman Culture, vol. 1. Edited by PETER SCHAFER. Texte und Studien zum Antiken Judentum, vol. 71. Tubingen: MOHR SIEBECK, 1998. Pp. viii + 690. DM 178.

The Talmud Yerushalmi and Graeco-Roman Culture, vol. 2. Edited by PETER SCHAFER and CATHERINE HEZSER. Texte und Studien zum Antiken Judentum, vol. 79. Tubingen: MOHR SIEBECK, 2000. Pp. vii + 291. DM 178.

The Talmud Yerushalmi--often referred to in English as the Palestinian Talmud (henceforth PT)--is a wide-ranging composition that includes a considerable portion of the literary output of the amoraim, the Jewish sages in Palestine during the third and fourth centuries C.E. The precise date of its final formation cannot be fixed with certainty, but it occurred sometime between the late fourth and the end of the fifth centuries. It was modeled after the mishnah, another Jewish work with a legal orientation, which had been edited and assembled into its definitive version early in the third century. However, one's first impression that PT is a sort of ramified commentary on the mishnah, although partially correct, is actually misleading. The amoraic editors also funneled a large quantity of material into PT that was not related to any concrete interpretation of the mishnah.

In addition to legal hermeneutics pertaining to both the Bible and the mishnah, PT includes an abundant collection of writings that fall under numerous literary genres. Wise sayings and philosophical dicta rub elbows with passages of prayer, magical excerpts and folk adages. Some parts of PT are replete with reports and observations of daily life, folkloristic legends, and fantastic anecdotes that, in a sense, take the reader on a tour throughout Late Roman Palestine. Although much of the journey is spent in Beit ha-Midrash--the sages' academy--as well as in the synagogues, readers also stroll the streets of cities and villages, where in addition to encountering the colorful blend of common people they come across various celebrities, judges, soldiers, and other dignitaries. They are brought into the bathhouse and taken to the theater; they can admire (or abominate) the statues in the city's square, or roam into the back alleys, where prostitutes, witches, and other layabouts are found. Such scenes provide vi vid snapshots of almost every aspect of daily life in Roman Palestine,

Traditional Jewish studies over the centuries (and even at present) have not paid PT considerable attention, but have rather focused primarily on a parallel literary enterprise that was produced during approximately the same period and edited somewhat later in the centers of Judaism in Persia--namely, the Babylonian Talmud. Unlike this tendency, the scholarly community, from the beginning of the academic study of Judaism in the nineteenth century, has recognized the importance of the Palestinian Talmud and devoted much effort to its examination. From the outset, PT research was divided into two branches. One group of scholars concentrated on what might be called "philology," examining and clarifying the wording of the text and studying its assorted versions and their transmission through the ages. The other group was more interested in what might be called "history," both Jewish and Graeco-Roman, either pieces of information that may be extracted from between the lines of the document, or those events that sh aped it as a whole. In the last few decades, the search for history in PT has been reformulated to include social history, religion, ideology, and folklore.

To risk a generalization, it seems that the "ideal" combination of philology and history in the study of ancient texts, as conceived by German scholars of the nineteenth-century Wissenschaft school, has practically never been achieved in the research of PT; aside from isolated attempts, philologists and historians have gone their separate ways in the investigation of this text. …

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