- LAST REVIEWED: 23 March 2020
- LAST MODIFIED: 25 October 2017
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0171
- LAST REVIEWED: 23 March 2020
- LAST MODIFIED: 25 October 2017
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0171
The term Talmud, derived from the Hebrew root למד/lmd (to learn), is a generic title applicable to two distinct but closely related anthological literary corpora, namely the Talmud Bavli, or the Babylonian Talmud, compiled between the 6th and 7th centuries CE and revised for some time thereafter, and the Talmud Yerushalmi, literally the Jerusalem Talmud, but more accurately known as the Palestinian Talmud, compiled between the 3rd and 5th centuries CE. Both Talmuds are arranged as exegetical commentaries on the Mishnah, the fundamental code of rabbinic law composed in Palestine during the early 3rd century CE. Although likely meant to function as aids to Mishnaic study, the finished products include extensive rabbinic texts and traditions of tangential relevance to their principal exegetical frameworks. The literary form of Talmud thus encompasses both the Mishnah itself and the diverse literary materials accrued in its discussion, collectively known as the Gemara (the completion). The influence of the Babylonian Talmud upon traditional Jewish thought and practice has brought the later of the two Talmudic corpora to the attention of generations of biblical scholars, who have mined its pages for insights as to the reception of the Hebrew Scriptures among the ancient rabbinic sages to whom its words are ascribed. Also of interest have been the Babylonian Talmud’s purported record of Jewish life and thought during the time of Jesus, long thought to bear witness to the intellectual world of the early Christians, as well as its occasional references to Jesus and his early followers, likewise thought to corroborate the narrative content of the New Testament. The Palestinian Talmud, leaner in its exposition of scriptural texts and traditionally held to lesser religious authority among Jewish readers, has attracted considerably less attention than its Babylonian counterpart. Recent studies, however, on the evolution of the Talmudic literary tradition have tended to locate both the Palestinian and the Babylonian corpora amid a cultural continuum dating no earlier than the Mishnah. The perceived value, therefore, of either Talmudic corpus to the comparative study of early Christian life and thought is in need of serious critical reevaluation. Nevertheless, developments in the areas of theory and method now available to critical readers stand to reinforce the reputation of both Talmudic corpora as vital witnesses to Jewish practice and belief up to and including their respective eras of composition. This article will proceed on the aforesaid premises, relating the analytical parameters of contemporary Talmudic scholarship to the disciplinary interests of contemporary biblical scholarship.
Academic introductions to the study of the Talmud generally appear within more comprehensive critical overviews of classical rabbinic literature and culture, among which the sources included here are recommended. Articles specific to the Talmud are included in Safrai, et al. 1987–2006 and Katz 2006. Hayes 2007, Goldenberg 2007, and Schiffman 1991 are introductory textbooks on early Judaism featuring extensive discussion of the rabbinic movement and its literature. Ben-Eliyahu, et al. 2013 offers a convenient introductory-level guide to the latter subjects, while Fonrobert and Jaffee 2007 and Strack and Stemberger 1996 offer more elaborate overviews better suited to advanced readers.
Ben-Eliyahu, Eyal, Yehuda Cohn, and Fergus Millar. Handbook of Jewish Literature from Late Antiquity, 135–700 CE. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.
A user’s guide to rabbinic literature designed for classical historians. Includes an introduction setting out the contexts of the rabbinic movement and brief bibliographical guides to its major literary witnesses. Recommended for novice readers of rabbinic texts.
Fonrobert, Charlotte Elisheva, and Martin S. Jaffee, eds. The Cambridge Companion to the Talmud and Rabbinic Literature. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.
A collection of articles addressing aspects of classical rabbinic thought and literary culture from a variety of contemporary social-, historical-, and literary-critical perspectives. An indispensable resource for novice readers seeking to know the realities behind the rhetorical worlds of the Palestinian and Babylonian Talmuds.
Goldenberg, Robert. The Origins of Judaism: From Canaan to the Rise of Islam. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.
A fine introductory-level textbook situating the rise of the rabbinic movement within its broader Near Eastern Jewish context. Includes extensive discussion of the Babylonian Talmud along with selections from its text.
Hayes, Christine Elizabeth. The Emergence of Judaism. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2007.
An accessible introductory-level textbook focusing on the origins of the rabbinic movement and its contributions to postclassical Judaism. Includes extensive discussion of the Palestinian and Babylonian Talmuds along with annotated selections from their texts and related rabbinic traditions. Reprinted in 2010 (Minneapolis: Fortress).
Katz, Steven T., ed. The Cambridge History of Judaism. Vol. 4, The Late Roman-Rabbinic Period. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006.
A compendious reference work featuring in-depth articles on all aspects of the Jewish experience in Late Antiquity, including but not limited to the formations of the Palestinian and Babylonian Talmuds.
Neusner, Jacob. Introduction to Rabbinic Literature. New York: Doubleday, 1994.
Following a general introduction to the rabbinic literary corpus, Neusner expounds his so-called documentary hypothesis, a controversial theory characterizing each component of the corpus as a univocal text documenting its author or authors’ singular conception of Judaism’s overarching religious system. Includes extensive selections from the Palestinian and Babylonian Talmuds and other rabbinic texts in English translation.
Safrai, Shmuel, Zeev Safrai, Joshua Schwartz, and Peter J. Tomson, eds. The Literature of the Sages. 2 vols. Assen, The Netherlands: Van Gorcum, 1987–2006.
A compendious reference work featuring in-depth articles on classical rabbinic texts and intellectual culture, including but not limited to the Palestinian and Babylonian Talmuds. Articles include extensive bibliographies and histories of prior research.
Schiffman, Lawrence H. From Text to Tradition: A History of Second Temple and Rabbinic Judaism. Hoboken, NJ: Ktav, 1991.
An intermediate-level textbook situating the rise of the rabbinic movement within the continuum of Second Temple–era Jewish thought and practice. Accompanying primary texts, including but not limited to the Palestinian and Babylonian Talmuds, are provided in Schiffman 1998 (cited under Textual Selections). Recommended for readers with some prior experience in the study of Judaism.
Strack, H. L., and Günter Stemberger. Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash. 2d ed. Translated by Markus Bockmuehl. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996.
The most thoroughgoing academic introduction to the Talmud and classical rabbinic literature currently available. Includes summary treatments of topics in the early history of the rabbinic movement, the compositions and receptions of all major and minor rabbinic texts, and modern scholarship on said texts along with extensive bibliographies. Recommended for intermediate and advanced readers.
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