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History of the Jews in Babylonia (non Sabbath version)

Posted: Sun May 10, 2015 11:23 am
by DCHindley
I recently bought the first volume of Jacob Neusner's five volume series of books named in the title of this thread.

This volume, I think, was originally published by E J Brill in 1964. The other four came out between then and 1970. All five volumes were re-issued by Wipf & Stock as paperbacks in 1999.

Anyhow, I wonder if I can get the opinion of others who may have read this volume (covers Parthian politics and the involvement of the Jewish inhabitants, ca. 140 bce to 227 ce). The paperback is still available for about $25 USD.

This is not my first attempt to read books by Neusner. If anything, the guy is extremely sure of himself. He speaks with erudition, but there are times I cannot seem to grasp his logic, regardless of how plausible his suggestions sound to my untrained ear. The other books I have are The Economics of the Mishnah (1969), The Oral Torah (1986), The Memorized Torah (1985), and A Midrash Reader (1990). I have at best perused them, but did noticed that Neusner can change his mind - a lot. His biggest turn-around was after his mentor Morton Smith passed away. Previous to this event, he was gushing praise for the man as editor of a Festschrift commemorating Smith. After Smith's death, in an intro to another scholar's book on memorization by Jews in the 1st century, Neusner rips (no pun intended) Smith to pieces.

Neusner is an ordained rabbi (Reform Judaism, I think), and has published English translations of the Mishnah and both the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud. I own these translations in one form or another, and to be honest, he seems to take great pains to give detailed outlines of the discussions (whose speaking to whom, scriptural allusions. etc.), which I like a lot.

However, I have seen online posts that seem to cast doubt on his understanding of Mishnaic Hebrew and Talmudic Aramaic, but I wonder if the real objection has to do with Neusner making these discussions more understandable to non-Jews, or among Jews those, at least, who are non-rabbis.

I suppose the examples they give are nit picking, but I am no expert, and do not read either Hebrew or Aramaic. I'd like to get some opinions and see if we can get a productive discussion going.


Re: History of the Jews in Babylonia (non Sabbath version)

Posted: Mon May 11, 2015 6:40 pm
by DCHindley
Finally read through it as best I could. It is not especially long (under 250 pages), but the non-specialist is hit by a mountain of unfamiliar Hebrew/Aramaic/Persian technical terms (which are thankfully transliterated into English) and names (not always clear which names relate to which sage, as several persons can have the same or similar "nicknames".

While Neusner makes every effort to couch his language in neutral terms and frequently errs on the side of caution, you can still sense that he thinks rabbis, especially Palestinian ones, are God's gift to Jewish-kind. It is especially apparent in the last section entitled "Summary."

Fr. J P Meier (as in the Marginal Jew series on Jesus) could do something similar with his discussions about early Christianity: explore all sorts of possibilities, include extensive footnotes, etc., yet always reach non-controversial conclusions.

I am too tired to try and scan any of it right now, but will do so tomorrow.


Re: History of the Jews in Babylonia (non Sabbath version)

Posted: Tue May 12, 2015 2:50 am
by StephenGoranson
In a 2010 interview Jacob Neusner remarked "As I grow older I return to my Reform roots from childhood." But he was advised to go to (and did go to) Jewish Theological Seminary (near Columbia U., where he was Morton Smith's student), so his ordination was Conservative. I have not read the book mentioned.

Re: History of the Jews in Babylonia (non Sabbath version)

Posted: Wed May 13, 2015 8:35 am
by semiopen
I wonder if Neusner did that at least partially to piss off his colleagues.

It seems to me that there is very little academic interest in liberal Judaism. For example, Hasidic_Judaism is interesting, Reform - who cares?

It's curious that with all their excellent concepts, that these denominations should be such a spectacular failure. My personal theory, is that they attract leaders who tend to be pompous. I don't view the relative popularity as being important.

Anyway this reminded me of the famous battle royal in 1840s Russia where Rabbi Yitzchak of Volozhin representing the Misnagdim teamed up with Menachem_Mendel_Schneersohn (the Tzemach Tzedek) to fight Max_Lilienthal who personified the Haskalah,

It's hard not to be sympathetic to Lilienthal's idea that Jews should receive some secular education, but it's amazing what a mess it turned into.
An 1844 law which ordered the creation of schools in which young Jews would learn secular subjects as well as Jewish religion was a victory for the Lilienthal and the Jewish Haskalah, but Lilienthal left Russia shortly afterward. His motivation for the sudden exit remains a topic of debate among scholars.[3] According to traditional Jewish writers, particularly in the Chabad tradition, his departure was prompted by allegations from within the Haskala movement of the misappropriation of funds, leading to a Russian governmental investigation.
Lilienthal became an important early Reform Rabbi in America - part of the anti-slavery wing.