JSIS C 458
Introduction to the Babylonian Talmud, the classic collection of rabbinic literature. Literary and historic methodologies contextualize the Talmud in the setting of other ancient religious literatures and track the processes of its literary development. Offered: jointly with NEAR E 458.
The Babylonian Talmud is the central text of the classical rabbinic Judaism of late antiquity. Rabbinic theology asserts that this work and its teachings comprise an “Oral Law” whose quasi-mystical origins on Mount Sinai testify to its sacral nature and its necessary inclusion in the canon of Jewish interpretive tradition. Practically speaking, the Babylonian Talmud has achieved such prominence in Jewish law that it seems at times to eclipse even the Hebrew Bible itself. This class will examine the literature of rabbinic Judaism in its historical, cultural, and religious contexts, and will focus largely on the Talmud’s discussions about prayer as a communal and individual expression. By exploring these literatures and their treatment in significant secondary commentaries, we will uncover some of the prominent traits and trends in the world of rabbinic Judaism in the Near East. Our study will help illuminate the enduring questions about what this ancient literature believed about religious practice, the function of ethnic community, and the transmission of religious values and standards in the face of profound cultural upheaval and widespread diaspora.
Student learning goals
Understand the core texts of rabbinic Judaism, specifically the Mishnah and the Babylonian Talmud, and identify significant contributors to these texts.
Gain familiarity with the Talmud’s language, rhetoric, and layout, and analyze its distinctive exegetical and theological relationship with other primary Jewish texts.
Recognize major historical, cultural, and religious themes and issues in early rabbinic Judaism and its literature.
Develop skills in textual analysis and historical interpretation.
Explore the social, cultural, and religious innovations emerging from the Talmud’s legislative approach to Jewish prayer.
Describe theoretical and hermeneutical trends in the Talmud and compare them to trends in later religious history (including in our own day).
General method of instruction
Course lectures will generally be accompanied by slides which will be available to students after each course session. In-class discussion will take up a significant amount of our time together, and each student will be expected to make regular, thoughtful constructive contributions to our ongoing conversation. Additionally, students are expected to follow the course syllabus and stay up-to-date on the background reading. For those course sessions in which we will study Talmudic texts together, advance preparation will be indispensable. A nominal amount of required reading in secondary sources will be assigned, and the supplementary recommended readings will be a very helpful additional aid in comprehension.
No previous experience with the Talmud or with ancient Judaism will be necessary for students to succeed in this course, and all texts will be read in English translation, though a general familiarity with major figures and events in the ancient world and a basic level of biblical literacy may prove helpful to some students. However, this course is truly designed as an introductory survey of Talmudic literature, and students will not be expected to have completed any coursework in this field before enrolling.
Required texts: • H.L. Strack and G. Stemberger, Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash • Collection of texts (Bible, Mishnah, Talmud) in translation (available on Catalyst) • Collection of essays and articles (available on Catalyst)
Class assignments and grading
Students will be expected to prepare for each class session and arrive prepared to discuss subject matter in detail. Preparation may include the completion of background reading, the formulation of ideas to contribute to an in-class discussion, or other similar work. Grades will be assigned based on the quality of submitted work (primarily on the midterm exam and final paper), but a significant portion will depend on in-class participation as well.
Midterm exam: 35% of final grade Final paper: 35% of final grade Class participation: 20% of final grade Additional assignments: 10% of final grade