Tag Archives: Irano-Talmudica

On Yaakov Elman

Perpetual Motion: Shai Secunda on Yaakov Elman, who passed away on July 29, 2018.

Sexual Desire in Jewish, Christian and Zoroastrian Ethics

Reżā ʿAbbāsī (1570-1635). Deatil of Two Lovers (A.H. 1039 A.H./1630 A.D.)
Reżā ʿAbbāsī (1570-1635). Deatil of Two Lovers (A.H. 1039 A.H./1630 A.D.)

Kiel, Yishai. 2016. Dynamics of Sexual Desire: Babylonian Rabbinic Culture at the Crossroads of Christian and Zoroastrian Ethics. Journal for the Study of Judaism 47. 1–47.

The article examines the inherently dialectical view of sexuality reflected in Babylonian rabbinic culture, which differentiates the sexual act, consisting of the indivisible elements of procreation and sexual gratification, from notions of sexual desire. On the one hand, the Babylonian Talmud accentuates the relative role of both male and female sexual gratification in the sexual act, but, on the other hand, it expresses a pessimistic view of the sexual urge, which is reified as part and parcel of the demonic realm. This dialectical perception is resolved in Babylonian rabbinic culture through a paradoxical mechanism that seeks to extinguish sexual desire via marital sex. The article situates different aspects of this distinctive construction of sexual desire in the context of contemporaneous Christian and Zoroastrian views. First, the Babylonian rabbinic mechanism is contextualized with the Pauline view of marital sex as a therapy for those “aflame with passion” (1 Cor 7:9) and its reception in patristic literature. Second, the Babylonian rabbinic dialectic of sex and desire is viewed in the light of a similar bifurcated perception evident in the Pahlavi tradition: while Zoroastrianism advocated full-fledged marital relationships from its very inception, an important strand in the Pahlavi tradition expresses an ambiguous view of sexual desire, which is linked in various ways to the demonic sphere.
The article is here online available .

Irano-Talmudica

persian-talmud-1423640093In the recently published issue of the Jewish Quarterly Review, four contributions explore different aspects of Talmudic scholarship in its late antique Iranian context (Irano-Talmudica) . The study of the Babylonian Talmud, or Bavli, a crucial part of the Jewish canon since the Middle Ages, has gained fresh and advanced perspectives over the last two decades. In part, this new approach is the result of the scholars’ insights into the Talmud’s Iranian background as a text reflecting the inter-cultural dynamics between the Jews and their Zoroastrian neighbours under the Sasanian Empire.


Brody, Robert. 2016. Irano-Talmudica: The New Parallelomania? Jewish Quarterly Review 106(2). 209–232.

Among Talmudists, there has been an explosion of interest over the last fifteen or twenty years in exploring the significance of the Talmud’s Iranian background for the interpretation (on several levels) of the Bavli. This work, spearheaded by Yaakov Elman, represents an attempt to redress the imbalance between the contextual study of the Babylonian Talmud and of Palestinian rabbinic literature. Students of Palestinian rabbinic works have made extensive use for well over a century of literary and other sources of knowledge concerning the late ancient Greek-speaking world in order to illuminate numerous facets of the literature produced by Palestinian rabbis in this period; by comparison, little has been done on the Babylonian/Iranian front. There are of course objective reasons for this disparity—including the much more limited source material available for the study of Sasanian Iraq—but Elman and those he has inspired have been doing their best to overcome these obstacles.

Secunda, Shai. 2016. “This, but Also That”: Historical, Methodological, and Theoretical Reflections on Irano-Talmudica. Jewish Quarterly Review 106(2). 233–241.

Some fifteen years ago, Yaakov Elman and a handful of young talmudists embarked on a major effort to correct a scholarly lacuna, namely, the dearth of talmudic studies that take the Bavli’s Sasanian context seriously into account. The history of scholarship has been recounted time and again, but the primary point bears repeating. Unlike researchers of Palestinian rabbinic literature who have consistently aspired to read rabbinic texts alongside classical literature and the archaeological record of Roman Palestine, for decades most scholars of the Babylonian Talmud did not so much as glance at Sasanian literary or material remains. Working against the clock, as it were, scholars of Irano-Talmudica have already made important advances by laying the groundwork for a contextualized study of talmudic law in its Sasanian milieu, offering new readings of talmudic narrative and myth in light of Iranian parallels, and suggesting novel understandings of Babylonian rabbinic ritual against neighboring non-Jewish ritual systems.

Kalmin, Richard. 2016. The Bavli, the Roman East, and Mesopotamian Christianity. Jewish Quarterly Review 106(2). 242–247.

Scholarly study of the Persian nexus of the Bavli began approximately a century and a half ago, but this study has entered a new stage of methodological rigor and sophistication during the past two decades. In the tremendous enthusiasm for the study of Bavli in its Persian context, however, some scholars have forgotten the obvious point that it is essential to use all of the cultural contexts at our disposal. The ensuing discussion suggests a few areas where that study is already ongoing and has yielded important results and would greatly benefit from additional research. One very promising area of comparative study of the Bavli is the literature of the Mesopotamian neighbors of the Babylonian rabbis, the Syriac-speaking Christians.

Gross, Simcha M. 2016. Irano-Talmudica and Beyond: Next Steps in the Contextualization of the Babylonian Talmud. Jewish Quarterly Review 106(2). 248–252.

Traditional scholarly study of the Babylonian Talmud has largely ignored the work’s historical context. The underlying presumption of most scholarship was that the Bavli was the product of a reified rabbinic culture, with Palestinian rabbinic literature as its antecedent and geonic literature as its successor, and that the Babylonian rabbis were themselves an ideologically and culturally insular elite. In recent years, however, a school of scholarship, sometimes called “Irano-Talmudica,” sought to give historical context to the Bavli and its rabbis, challenging the presumed insularity of the Babylonian rabbis. This has proved to be a critical turn in the field. This drive to contextualize the Babylonian Talmud has begun to emerge from its infancy, raising a number of new questions: What are the most apt and fruitful sources and materials? Which methodology is most promising? What is the potential payoff for scholars investigating these sources? The answer to any one of these questions has an impact on the others.

Zoroastrianism in the Levant

Abouzayd, Shafiq (ed.). 2014. Zoroastrianism in the Levant: Proceedings of conferences held in 2010 & 2012. ARAM 26(1).

Table of contents:

Patricia Crone: “Pre-existence in Iran: “Zoroastrians, ex-Christians Mu‘tazilites, and Jews on the human acquisition of bodies”

Oktor Skjærvø & Yaakov Elman: “Concepts of pollution in late Sasanian Iran. Does pollution need stairs, and dose it fill space?”

Maria Macuch: “The case against Mār Abā, the Catholicos, in the light of Sasanian law”

Sara Kuehn: “The dragon fighter: The influence of Zoroastrian ideas on Judaeo-Christian and Islamic iconography”

Geoffrey Herman: “Like a slave before his master: A Persian gesture of deference in Sasanian, Jewish, and Christian sources”

Michał Gawlikowski: “Zoroastrian echoes in the Mithraeum at Hawarte, Syria”

Vicente Dobroruka: “Zoroastrian apocalyptic and Hellenistic political propaganda”

Dan D.Y. Shapira: “Pahlavi Fire, Bundahishn 18”

Matteo Compareti: “The representation of Zoroastrian divinities in late Sasanian art and their description according to Avestan literature”

Bahman Moradian: “The day of Mihr, the month of Mihr and the ceremony of Mihrized in Yazd”

Ezio Albrile: “Hypnotica Iranica: Zoroastrian ecstasy in the West”

Andrew D. Magnusson: “On the origins of the prophet Muhammad’s charter to the family of Salman Al-Farisi”

Predrag Bukovec: “The soul’s judgement in Mandaeism: Iranian influences on Mandaean afterlife”

Daphna Arbel: “On human’s elevation, hubris, and fall from glory. Traditions of Yima/Jamshid and Enochmetatron – an indirect cultural dialogue?”

Vicente Dobroruka: “The order of metals in Daniel 2 and in Persian apocalyptic”

Myriam Wissa: “Pre-Islamic topos in Dhu’l-Nūn Al-Misrī’s teaching: A re-assessment of the Egyptian roots of the knowledge of the name of god and their interaction with Zoroastrianism in the Achaemenid period ”

David H. Sick: “The choice of Xerxes: A Zoroastrian interpretation of Herodotus 7.12-18”

In the margins of the Rabbinic curriculum

Kiel, Yishai . 2015. In the margins of the Rabbinic curriculum: Mastering ʿUqṣin in the light of Zoroastrian intellectual culture. Journal for the Study of Judaism  46( 2): 251 – 281.

The study situates the Babylonian rabbinic discussion concerning the spread of ritual pollution in produce in a broader cultural and intellectual context, by synoptically examining the rabbinic discussion against the backdrop of contemporaneous Zoroastrian legal discourse. It is suggested that the intimate affinity exhibited between the Babylonian rabbinic and Pahlavi discussions of produce contamination supports a fresh examination of the cultural significance of tractate ʿUqtzin in the Babylonian Talmud and the implications of its mastery on the intellectual and cultural identity of the Babylonian rabbis. The study posits that the self-reflective Talmudic reference to the knowledge and interest later generations of Babylonian rabbis possessed in tractate ʿUqtzin and the spread of ritual pollution in produce reflects the relative significance of these topics in the broader intellectual agenda of the Sasanian period. The later Babylonian rabbis boasted about their knowledge of tractate ʿUqtzin, which extended far beyond the capacity of earlier generations, precisely because this topic best reflected the intellectual currents of their time.