Tag Archives: Talmud

Sexuality in the Babylonian Talmud: Christian and Sasanian Contexts in Late Antiquity

Kiel, Yshai. 2016.  Sexuality in the Babylonian Talmud: Christian and Sasanian Contexts in Late Antiquity. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Within this close textual analysis of the Babylonian Talmud, Yishai Kiel explores rabbinic discussions of sex in light of cultural assumptions and dispositions that pervaded the cultures of late antiquity and particularly the Iranian world. By negotiating the Iranian context of the rabbinic discussion alongside the Christian backdrop, this groundbreaking volume presents a balanced and nuanced portrayal of the rabbinic discourse on sexuality and situates rabbinic discussions of sex more broadly at the crossroads of late antique cultures. The study is divided into two thematic sections: the first centers on the broader aspects of rabbinic discourse on sexuality while the second hones in on rabbinic discussions of sexual prohibitions and the classification of permissible and prohibited partnerships, with particular attention to rabbinic discussions of incest. Essential reading for scholars and graduate students of Judaic studies, early Christianity, and Iranian studies, as well as those interested in religious studies and comparative religion.

 

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.

The Archaeology and Material Culture of the Babylonian Talmud

Geller, Markham J. (ed.). 2015. The Archaeology and Material Culture of the Babylonian Talmud. (IJS Studies in Judaica 16). Brill.

The Babylonian Talmud remains the richest source of information regarding the material culture and lifestyle of the Babylonian Jewish community, with additional data now supplied by Babylonian incantation bowls. Although archaeology has yet to excavate any Jewish sites from Babylonia, information from Parthian and Sassanian Babylonia provides relevant background information, which differs substantially from archaeological finds from the Land of Israel. One of the key questions addresses the amount of traffic and general communications between Jewish Babylonia and Israel, considering the great distances and hardships of travel involved.

Markham J. Geller, Ph.D (1974), Brandeis University, is Professor of Semitic Languages and Director of the Institute of Jewish Studies at University College London, currently on secondment to the Freie University Berlin as Professor für Wissensgeschichte. He is Principal Investigator of BabMed, an Advanced ERC Project.

 

Table of contents

-Acknowledgements
-The Contributors
-Introduction: The Archaeology and Material Culture of the -Babylonian Talmud, Markum. J. Geller
-Land behind Ctesiphon: the Archaeology of Babylonia during the Period of the Babylonian Talmud, St John Simpson
-‘Recycling economies, when efficient, are by their nature invisible.’ A First Century Jewish Recycling Economy, Matthew Ponting and Dan Levene
-The Cedar in Jewish Antiquity, Michael Stone
-Since when do Women go to Miqveh? Archaeological and Rabbinic Evidence, Tal Ilan
-Rabbis in Incantation Bowls, Shaul Shaked
-Divorcing a Demon: Incantation Bowls and BT Giṭṭin 85b, Siam Bhayro
-Lilith’s Hair and Ashmedai’s Horns: Incantation Bowl Imagery in the -Light of Talmudic Descriptions, Naama Vilozny
-The Material World of Babylonia as seen from Roman Palestine: -Some Preliminary Observations, Yaron Eliav
-Travel Between Palestine and Mesopotamia during the Hellenistic and Roman Periods: A Preliminary Study, Getzel Cohen (z’’l)
-Shopping in Ctesiphon: A Lesson in Sasanian Commercial Practice, Yaakov Elman
-Substance and Fruit in the Sasanian Law of Property and the Babylonian Talmud, Maria Macuch
-Rabbinic, Christian, and Local Calendars in Late Antique Babylonia: -Influence and Shared Culture, Sacha Stern
-‘Manasseh sawed Isaiah with a Saw of Wood:’ an Ancient Legend in -Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Persian Sources, Richard Kalmin
-Biblical ‘Archaeology’ and Babylonian Rabbis: On the Self-Image of Jews in Sasanian Babylonia, Isaiah Gafni
-Loanwords in Jewish Babylonian Aramaic: Some Preliminary Observations, Theodore Kwasman
-The Gymnasium at Babylon and Jerusalem, Markham J. Geller and D. T. Potts
-Index

 

 

Adam & Eve in Zoroastrian and Manichaean Literature

Painting from Manafi al-Hayawan (The Useful Animals), depicting Adam and Eve. From Maragheh in Iran, 1294–99

Kiel, Yishai. 2015. Creation by Emission. Recreating Adam and Eve in the Babylonian Talmud in Light of Zoroastrian and Manichaean Literature. Journal of Jewish Studies 66(2). 295–316.

This study attempts to broaden the Judeo-Christian prism through which the rabbinic legends of Adam and Eve are frequently examined in scholarship, by offering a contextual and synoptic reading of Babylonian rabbinic traditions pertaining to the first human couple against the backdrop of the Zoroastrian and Manichaean creation myths. The findings demonstrate that, while some of the themes and motifs found in the Babylonian rabbinic tradition are continuous with the ancient Jewish and Christian heritage, others are absent from, or occupy a peripheral role in, ancient Jewish and Christian traditions and, at the same time, are reminiscent of Iranian mythology. The study posits that the syncretic tendencies that pervaded the Sasanian culture facilitated the incorporation of Zoroastrian and Manichaean themes into the Babylonian legends, which were in turn creatively repackaged and adapted to the rabbinic tradition and world-view.
The article is available for reading here.

Rabbis, Sorcerers, Kings, and Priests: The Culture of the Talmud in Ancient Iran

Mokhtarian, Jason Sion. 2015. Rabbis, Sorcerers, Kings, and Priests: The Culture of the Talmud in Ancient Iran. Berkeley. University of California Press.

Rabbis, Sorcerers, Kings, and Priests examines the impact of the Persian Sasanian context on the Babylonian Talmud, perhaps the most important corpus in the Jewish sacred canon. What impact did the Persian Zoroastrian Empire, as both a real historical force and an imaginary interlocutor, have on rabbinic identity and authority as expressed in the Talmud? Drawing from the field of comparative religion, Jason Sion Mokhtarian addresses this question by bringing into mutual fruition Talmudic studies and ancient Iranology, two historically distinct disciplines. Whereas most research on the Talmud assumes that the rabbis were an insular group isolated from the cultural horizon outside their academies, this book contextualizes the rabbis and the Talmud within a broader sociocultural orbit by drawing from a wide range of sources from Sasanian Iran, including Middle Persian Zoroastrian literature, archaeological data such as seals and inscriptions, and the Aramaic magical bowl spells. Mokhtarian also includes a detailed examination of the Talmud’s dozens of texts that portray three Persian “others”: the Persians, the Sasanian kings, and the Zoroastrian priests. This book skillfully engages and demonstrates the rich penetration of Persian imperial society and culture on the jews

TOC:

-List of Abbreviations
-Note on Translations, Transcriptions, and Manuscripts
-Acknowledgments
-Introduction
-1. The Sources and Methods of Talmudic and Iranian Studies
-2. Comparing Sasanian Religions
-3. Rabbinic Portrayals of Persians as Others
-4. Rabbis and Sasanian Kings in Dialogue
-5. Rabbis and Zoroastrian Priests in Judicial Settings
-6. Rabbis, Sorcerers, and Priests
-Conclusion: Rabbis, Sorcerers, Kings, and Priests in Sasanian Iran
-Notes
-Bibliography
-Index

 

Jason Sion Mokhtarian is Assistant Professor of Jewish Studies at Indiana University, Bloomington.