Synopses & Reviews
“Building on the recent emergence of a vigorous new direction in Babylonian Talmudic research, and stressing the need for a comprehensive contextualization of the Bavli
within its broader Iranian environment, Mokhtarian has provided us with a keenly nuanced and well-balanced example of just such an undertaking. His detailed analysis of the roles and images of Iranian kings, Zoroastrian priests, and sorcerers as reflected in the Babylonian Talmudic corpus represents not only a literary tour de force but provides historians of Jews and Judaism with critical new insights into the nature of Babylonian Jewry's legal status, social structure, and cultural frameworks.”—Isaiah M. Gafni, Sol Rosenbloom Professor of Jewish History at the Hebrew University
“This is the book for anyone interested in the impact of Sasanian-Persian culture on the Babylonian Talmud. Jason Mokhtarian’s consummate knowledge of Iranian languages, religion, and society and his lucid explication of Talmudic passages provide the most comprehensive introduction to this crucial, yet under-explored, subject.”—Jeffrey Rubenstein, Skirball Professor of Talmud and Rabbinics at New York University
“The importance of this book for understanding the Sasanian world cannot be underestimated. Jason Mokhtarian has noted every instance in which the Persians are mentioned in the Talmud and has clarified the meaning of the reference to each. This work will help us understand the social and religious history of the Iranshahr (Realm of the Iranians) and their interaction with the Jewish population of late antiquity.”—Touraj Daryaee, Maseeh Chair in Persian Studies and Culture and Director of the Jordan Center for Persian Studies and Culture at the University of California, Irvine
and#8220;Surely the crown of [Bar-Kochvaand#8217;s] career. . . . One cannot imagine this magisterial volume ever being, or needing to be, replaced.and#8221;
and#8220;Gives innovative readings of almost all the texts it considers. . . . The result is invigorating and challenging.and#8221;
and#8220;A major reference work on an important aspect of ancient Judaism.and#8221;
and#8220;Bar-Kochva . . . provides erudite reinterpretations of many of the texts, showing that Greek views of Jews in this period are a complicated issue.and#8221;
This landmark contribution to ongoing debates about perceptions of the Jews in antiquity examines the attitudes of Greek writers of the Hellenistic period toward the Jewish people. Among the leading Greek intellectuals who devoted special attention to the Jews were Theophrastus (the successor of Aristotle), Hecataeus of Abdera (the father of "scientific" ethnography), and Apollonius Molon (probably the greatest rhetorician of the Hellenistic world). Bezalel Bar-Kochva examines the references of these writers and others to the Jews in light of their literary output and personal background; their religious, social, and political views; their literary and stylistic methods; ethnographic stereotypes current at the time; and more.
and#147;A brilliant and systematic analysis of twelve key documents' treatment of the Jews, this book does more than collect and arrange references to Judaism. It selects important intellectual authorities and subjects them to a rigorous examination, which places learning on a wholly new foundation. Bar-Kochva changes the face of the scholarship.and#8221;and#151;Jacob Neusner, Institute of Advanced Theology, Bard College
This book explores the ways in which the early rabbis reshaped biblical laws of ritual purity and impurity and argues that the rabbis new purity discourse generated a unique notion of a bodily self. Focusing on the Mishnah, a Palestinian legal codex compiled around the turn of the third century CE, Mira Balberg shows how the rabbis constructed the processes of contracting, conveying, and managing ritual impurity as ways of negotiating the relations between ones self and ones body and, more broadly, the relations between ones self and ones human and nonhuman environments.
With their heightened emphasis on subjectivity, consciousness, and self-reflection, the rabbis reinvented biblically inherited language and practices in a way that resonated with central cultural concerns and intellectual commitments of the Greco-Roman Mediterranean world. Purity, Body, and Self in Early Rabbinic Literature adds a new dimension to the study of practices of self-making in antiquity by suggesting that not only philosophical exercises but also legal paradigms functioned as sites through which the self was shaped and improved.
"Balberg has the rare ability to make an esoteric and complex subject approachable and captivating. This book is a
tour de force that could significantly influence the study of Mishna, the philosophy of halakah
, and our understanding of Rabbinic subjectivity. It is one of the smartest works on the Mishnha I have read."
Ishay Rosen-Zvi, Tel Aviv University
"This book presents a new and striking understanding of rabbinic purity. It is a pleasure to read for the freshness of its ideas and insights; Balbergs interpretations are aptly put and incisively astute."
Elizabeth Shanks Alexander, University of Virginia
Rabbis, Sorcerers, Kings, and Priests examines the impact of the Persian Sasanian context on the Babylonian Talmud, perhaps the most important corpus in the Jewish sacred canon. What impact did the Persian Zoroastrian Empire, as both a real historical force and an imaginary interlocutor, have on rabbinic identity and authority as expressed in the Talmud? Drawing from the field of comparative religion, Jason Sion Mokhtarian addresses this question by bringing into mutual fruition Talmudic studies and ancient Iranology, two historically distinct disciplines. Whereas most research on the Talmud assumes that the rabbis were an insular group isolated from the cultural horizon outside their academies, this book contextualizes the rabbis and the Talmud within a broader sociocultural orbit by drawing from a wide range of sources from Sasanian Iran, including Middle Persian Zoroastrian literature, archaeological data such as seals and inscriptions, and the Aramaic magical bowl spells. Mokhtarian also includes a detailed examination of the Talmuds dozens of texts that portray three Persian others”: the Persians, the Sasanian kings, and the Zoroastrian priests. This book skillfully engages and demonstrates the rich penetration of Persian imperial society and culture on the Jews of late antique Iran.
About the Author
Bezalel Bar-Kochva is Jacob M. Alkow Professor of the History of the Jews in the Ancient World at Tel Aviv University, Israel, and the author of Pseudo Hecataeus "On the Jews": Legitimizing the Jewish Diaspora (UC Press), among other books.
Table of Contents
1. From Sources of Impurity to Circles of Impurity
2. Subjecting the Body
3. Objects That Matter
4. On Corpses and Persons
5. The Duality of Gentile Bodies
6. The Pure Self
Epilogue: Recomposing Purity and Meaning