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Re: orion Chanukah, Tefillin and Minim

On Thu, 14 Jan 1999, Jack Kilmon wrote:

> I'm with you so far and I realize that this does not mean thatthe Talmud
> account is not historical...just can't prove it.
Well, Talmudic accounts ARE historical. The question is what kind of
historiography can they support. They DO tell us, for example, what the
tradents who transmit the traditions believed to have been the case.
That's not chopped liver. And when there are enough parallel traditions
you can trace a history of the account through its tradental circles,
various redactional hands, and so forth. And, in the few cases where
Talmudic narratives have parallels in non-Rabbinic literature, e.g.,
Josephus, you can measure how historical images are transformed by the
interests of different Judaic circles. But, outside of a few diehards, it
is hard to find specialists in rabbinics who argue that Talmudic
narratives should be taken as essentially reliable accounts until there is
reason to doubt them. The "orality" of the tradition (which is far from
perfectly understood in any event) is no guarantee that an account of a
1st century event in a 3-6th century text reproduces the tradition as it
existed at the time of its 1st century formulation. It does not even
guarantee that the description of the event was formulated in the century
it was supposed to have happened.

> > As Hillel said: zil gmor. MJ
> Yes, as Hillel said according to oral tradition recorded in the Talmud.I hope
> you don't mind my not standing on one foot though (g)
And the substance of his statement, as you surely know, appears in Tobit
4:15, in the mouth of Jesus, etc. That is, it's a cliche that trundled
its away all around the Jewish Mediterranean. Maybe Hillel  himself
trotted it out from time to time. But that he did so in conformity with
the narrative dictates of a standard Hellenistic chreia I doubt very

My own recommendation, then, is to avoid as far as possible making
historical arguments about pre-rabbinic times that depend upon rabbinic
texts as the primary documentary evidence. In saying this, I believe I
express not simply my own bias, but a very broad consensus of people who
work routinely with rabbinic materials. True, consensus comes and
consensus goes. It is a social, not a metaphysical, reality. But, as the
author of a textbook on early Judaism in which I routinely transgressed
the boundaries of my own firsthand knowledge, my view is that one should
pay very careful attention to consensual positions and be very suspicious 
of one's own bright ideas (unless they are in one's own area of
expertise). Marty Jaffee

For private reply, e-mail to Martin Jaffee <jaffee@u.washington.edu>
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