Originally published in AJS Review, 20:1 (1995), pp. 186-8. Louis Jacobs. Structure and Form in the Babylonian Talmud. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991. xii, 138 pp. This book presents the basic claim that the Babylonian Talmud as a whole is a work of literature, not a historical record. Its editors attributed words to individuals they knew had not spoken them, they described events they knew had not occurred, they constructed ... Continue Reading ➨
This book attempts to uncover the basic form and structure of the Babylonian Talmud, which is a centrally important text in Jewish studies. The contribution made by Dr Jacobs to the study of the Talmud consists in his presentation of the literary principles employed in its composition, and he here presents a clear survey indicating the manner in which earlier material was reworked in order to make each component, or sugya, into a carefully structured and self-consistent unit. Jacobs compares the editors' methods in this regard with the manner in which Shakespeare converted the variety of chronicles and source material available to him into a much more dramatic literary form, which - while preserving the kernel of the story - completely transformed its character and impact. Dr Jacobs' study constitutes an excellent introduction to the Babylonian Talmud and to the nature of rabbinic thinking.