Originally published in Journal of Jewish Studies 41:2.
Alan J. Avery-Peck (ed.), The Literature of Early Rabbinic Judaism: Issues in Talmudic Redaction and Interpretation (New Perspectives on Ancient Judaism, vol. 4). University Press of America, Lanham, New York, London, 1989. xv, 151 pp. $18.50.
It is not possible within the limits of a review to deal at all adequately with the arguments put forward by the various contributors to this symposium. For this, a book of equal size would be required, as can be seen when the contents are listed. Part One is entitled ‘Recent Studies in Talmudic Redaction’, and contains the following essays: Martin S. Jaffee, ‘The Babylonian Appropriation of the Talmud Yerushalmi: Redactional Studies in the Horayot Tractates’; Richard Kalmin, ‘The Stam and the Final Generations of Amoraim: Assessing the Importance of Their Relationship for Study and Redaction of the Talmud’; David Kraemer, ‘The Beginning of the Preservation of Amoraic Argumentation in Amoraic Babylonia’; Avram L. Reisner, “The Character and Construction of a Contrived Sugya: Shevuot 3a-4a’; Michael L. Chemick, ‘Contemporary Talmudic Studies: The Continuing Agenda’.
Part Two is entitled “The Systematic Interpretation of Rabbinic Documents’, and consists of: Jacob Neusner, The Political Economy of Religion: The Case of Jews’ Economics and the Economics of Judaism’; Paul Virgil McCracken Flesher (what a wonderful name!), ‘Slaves, Israelites, and the System of the Mishnah’; Irving J. Mandelbaum, ‘The Purpose of the Laws of Diverse Kinds’.
Part Three is entitled ‘Early Judaism in its Graeco-Roman Context’, and contains the articles: Sandra R. Shimoff, ‘Shepherds: Hellenism, Sectarianism, and Judaism’; Dixon Slingerland (another marvel of a name), ‘Chrestus: Cristus?’.
Part One is particularly stimulating. Here, important questions considered by older scholars are re-examined in a fresh manner by young scholars who certainly have something to say, though their methodology can be questioned of examining in meticulous, not to say pedantic, detail one tiny section of the Talmud and then drawing sweeping conclusions about the work as a whole. And if it is not too improper for a reviewer to refer to his own work, my researches in this field (e.g. The Talmudic Argument, CUP, 1984) might have been mentioned if only to criticize and reject.
The editor refers to ‘the canonical texts of Talmudic Judaism’ (pp. ix and x). ‘Canonical’ is a term and idea imported from Christianity for the biblical books and is surely inappropriate for the Talmud where no evidence at all is available of any sifting, selecting and rejection to establish how much of the material is sacred and part of a ‘canon’ of sacred writ, and no ‘extra-canonical’ material exists, as it does with the Apocrypha in relation to the Bible.
In this kind of writing in the USA, the use of a jargon of its own and an in-style creates severe difficulties for the outsider. Am I alone in deploring the division of a Talmudic unit into sections marked by A, B, C etc. or in finding extremely irritating the transliteration of Hebrew and Aramaic with consonants alone? It hinders comprehension to come across KHN GDWL, for example. It is hard to see why this is superior to the usual kohen gadol or, if the vowels are to be supplied by the reader in any event, why the actual Hebrew letters should not be used.
Lancaster / University College, London