In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Hebrew Studies 41 (2000) 333 Reviews THE SAGE IN JEWISH SOCIETY OF LATE ANTIQUITY. By Richard Kalmin. pp. x + 180. London and New York: Routledge, 1999. Paper, $27.99. This book argues that rabbinic exegesis was never simply Scripturedriven but was the product of specific environments; thus important differences between Sassanian Babylonia and Roman Palestine produced important and consistent differences between Palestinian and Babylonian midrash, in fact important variations in rabbinic narrative of all sorts as it developed in those two centers. Rabbis are portrayed in Palestinian sources as deeply engaged with their non-rabbinic fellow Jews, indeed as dependent on them for political. social. and fmancial support, while Babylonian rabbis are depicted as holding aloof from others in all these same respects. Richard Kalmin claims these differences are so pervasive as to preclude any explanation through sheer chance or fabrication. They must echo reality. This argument depends on identifying certain fundamental differences between Persian and Roman society. Sassanian Persia was marked by a rigid social hierarchy and by relatively little movement across the boundaries that separated groups from one another: social classes did not mingle, nor did individuals readily move from one to another. In this environment . rabbis constituted a distinct estate with little opportunity or incentive for concern about the way they were perceived by other Jews. They could freely develop narratives in which rabbis looked bad, and they could freely treat non-Jews with disregard or even disdain. The Roman Empire, on the other hand. had created a society with considerable mobility and with frequent contact among diverse social elements. Here Rabbis could not afford the "luxuries" just mentioned. Their narratives would circulate among outsiders, so they could not allow themselves or biblical characters who functioned as their surrogates to exhibit dislikable or dishonorable characteristics. They could not insult (Jewish) outsiders with whose families they might wish to intermarry or whose children they might wish to recruit into their own ranks. According to Kalmin, Babylonian and Palestinian rabbinic narratives and exegeses show exactly the differences this analysis would lead one to expect. He begins by comparing portrayals of rabbinic dealings with nonrabbinic Jews and proceeds to examine depictions of rabbinic encounters with gentiles and heretics on one hand and with remnants of the Hasmonaean aristocracy on the other. He offers a study of different rab- Hebrew Studies 41 (2000) 334 Reviews binic attitudes toward the importance of genealogical purity and a study of rabbis as wonderworking rainmakers. Finally he examines different rabbinic treatments of some major and minor biblical characters, among them Ezra, David, Moses, and Ahithophel. In every case he fmds the same result: Palestinian narratives portray rabbis as enmeshed in Jewish society at large and concerned for their place in that society, while Babylonian narratives depict an isolated elite, protected by a rigid social structure from any need to worry about their image in the eyes of others. This fmding, he writes, is too consistent and too widespread to be the result of anything other than socio-historical reality. In the process of reaching this conclusion, Kalmin is scrupulous to avoid going beyond his evidence, indeed to avoid even giving the impression of having done so. At the beginning of each chapter, he carefully lists the set of talmudic tractates and other collections that were used in preparing that chapter's presentation (these vary from one chapter to the next). He acknowledges instances where a text differently interpreted or in a variant reading would no longer support the contention he seeks to base on it. He is very careful to repeat over and over again that he is speaking only of a relative difference between the Palestinian and Babylonian materials, that of course each body of texts contains instances of the pattern that dominates the other, that "Palestinian" materials appear in the Babylonian Talmud, that Palestinian masters are sometimes portrayed as behaving in a "Babylonian " manner, and so on. The most frequent instance of this crossover phenomenon is that beginning with the fourth generation Babylonian masters increasingly adopted "Palestinian" ways of behaving toward others. Kalmin generally explains this change as reflecting the slow diffusion of Palestinian attitudes among Babylonian teachers, and in this explanation one...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
2158-1681
Print ISSN
0146-4094
Pages
pp. 333-335
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.