|Publisher||Oxford University Press|
|Publication Date||October 26, 2006|
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The Babylonian Talmud was compiled in the third through sixth centuries CE, by rabbis living under Sasanian Persian rule in the area between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. What kind of society did these rabbis inhabit? What effect did that society have on important rabbinic texts?
In this book Richard Kalmin offers a thorough reexamination of rabbinic culture of late antique Babylonia. He shows how this culture was shaped in part by Persia on the one hand, and by Roman Palestine on the other. The mid fourth century CE in Jewish Babylonia was a period of particularly intense "Palestinianization," at the same time that the Mesopotamian and east Persian Christian communities were undergoing a period of intense "Syrianization." Kalmin argues that these closely related processes were accelerated by third-century Persian conquests deep into Roman territory, which resulted in the resettlement of thousands of Christian and Jewish inhabitants of the eastern Roman provinces in Persian Mesopotamia, eastern Syria, and western Persia, profoundly altering the cultural landscape for centuries to come.
Kalmin also offers new interpretations of several fascinating rabbinic texts of late antiquity. He shows how they have often been misunderstood by historians who lack attentiveness to the role of anonymous editors in glossing or emending earlier texts and who insist on attributing these texts to sixth century editors rather than to storytellers and editors of earlier centuries who introduced changes into the texts they learned and transmitted. He also demonstrates how Babylonian rabbis interacted with the non-rabbinic Jewish world, often in the form of the incorporation of centuries-old non-rabbinic Jewish texts into the developing Talmud, rather than via the encounter with actual non-rabbinic Jews in the streets and marketplaces of Babylonia. Most of these texts were "domesticated" prior to their inclusion in the Babylonian Talmud, which was generally accomplished by means of the rabbinization of the non-rabbinic texts. Rabbis transformed a story's protagonists into rabbis rather than kings or priests, or portrayed them studying Torah rather than engaging in other activities, since Torah study was viewed by them as the most important, perhaps the only important, human activity.
Kalmin's arguments shed new light on rabbinic Judaism in late antique society. This book will be invaluable to any student or scholar of this period.