English, Recent Publications

The Talmud in Arabic and More Epigraphical Rabbis

Two articles have just been published online which are of interest to readers of this blog. The first is Hayim Lapin’s reconsideration of the so-called “epigraphical rabbis,” published in the most recent Jewish Quarterly Review (subscription required). Hayim Lapin, “Epigraphical Rabbis: A Reconsideration,” JQR 101:3 (2011).  Here is the abstract:

The rabbi or berabbi is used as the title of some sixty-eight men known from inscriptions and other documentary sources from late antiquity. Since the initial survey of these remains by Shaye Cohen in JQR in 1981, no consensus has emerged on the relationship between the epigraphic and documentary use of the title and the rabbinic movement. Along with an updated list of “epigraphical rabbis,” this article reviews the evidence, with particular attention to numbers, chronology, and to the special case of Bet Shearim. Except for one instance, the use of the title in inscriptions as a marker of connection to the rabbinic movement cannot be established. Allowing that the epigraphic practice reflects non-rabbinic uses of the same title is the methodologically safer course. One consequence of this reconsideration is that the inscriptions now appear to be overwhelmingly from the fourth century and later. For scholars who do, nevertheless, insist that the epigraphical title implies membership and scholarly attainment in the rabbinic movement, the late date has important implications for assessing the fate of the rabbinic movement after the fourth century.

There is a great review of the evidence, and a super-cautious conclusion. I did notice that the article’s list of epigraphical rabbis in the Diaspora only barely notes the rabbis in Aramaic incantation bowls. The actual list of rabbis in the bowls continues to grow, and will grow even longer with Shaul Shaked’s publications of the Schoyen collection.

The second article, a bit off of the beaten track, describes a would-be Arabic translation of the Talmud with a fascinating history of its own. Jonathan Marc Gribetz, “An Arabic-Zionist Talmud: Shimon Moyal’s At-Talmud,” Jewish Social Studies 17:1 (2011).  The abstract:

This article offers a close reading of At-Talmud: Asluhu wa-tasalsuluhu wa-ad-abuhu (The Talmud: Its Origin, Transmission, and Ethics; 1909), an Arabic work published in Egypt by the Jaffa-born writer Shimon Moyal. The book was intended to be the first of a multivolume translation of the Talmud into Arabic. The article places this translation project into its historical context in the fin-de-siècle Middle East and explores the various ways in which Moyal, through his translation, attempted to present Judaism more favorably and familiarly to a mixed Christian and Muslim readership. It is further suggested that Moyal’s description of ancient Jewish history, and especially his use of nationalist terminology in recounting this past, may be read for insights about Moyal’s own approach to Zionism. The article thereby also contributes to the scholarly discourse on the character of Sephardi Zionism.


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