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


-List of Abbreviations
-Note on Translations, Transcriptions, and Manuscripts
-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


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


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.