21 June 2012

Historical Study of the Mishnah, Briefly

Although I usually post quotes I find interesting on my Tumblr page, I wanted to make an exception for this quote about the study of the Mishnah.  It comes from Amram Tropper's article "The State of Mishnah Studies", which was published two years ago.*
The Mishnah was redacted in Galilee around the year 200 CE,1 a redaction traditionally ascribed to R. Judah haNasi. 2 After redaction, this compilation of tannaitic law quickly became a central literary composition for the amora'im of late antiquity who pored over and interpreted it in their study halls and in the Palestinian and Babylonian Talmuds. 3 In time, the Babylonian Talmud replaced the Mishnah at the heart of rabbinic Judaism, and, even today, traditional Jews tend to interpret the Mishnah through the lens of the Babylonian Talmud. Even though the Mishnah never regained its pride of place in the life of the Jewish people, already in the Middle Ages, the Mishnah re-emerged as the object of intense study and commentaries (see Sussman 1981). In the twelfth century, for example, Maimonides penned a commentary to the entire Mishnah that omits the lengthy talmudic discussions and, in some cases, even diverges from the Babylonian Talmud's interpretation of the Mishnah (see Kapah 1963-1968). Foreshadowed by some medieval and early modern precedents such as Maimonides' commentary, the modern critical study of the Mishnah seeks to interpret the Mishnah in and for itself, without recourse to the interpretations of the Talmuds. This critical approach came into its own in the nineteenth century and has continued to flourish and evolve throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first (see C. Gafni, dissertation 2005). 
 Here are the footnotes from the above section:
1. Some additional materials were apparently incorporated into the Mishnah even after redaction as the text maintained a certain measure of fluidity for some time. See J. N. Epstein (2000: 946-979); Stemberger (1996: 133-134). It bears noting that Avot may have been redacted somewhat later than the rest of the Mishnah, though its precise date of redaction is still disputed. 
2. The "unselfconscious attribution of mishnaic decisions" to R. Judah haNasi in the Talmuds (Stemberger 1996: 133) strongly suggests that he was responsible for the Mishnah. See also Oppenheimer (2007: 156-159). 
3. The purpose of the Mishnah is debated and it has been viewed as a collection of sources, a law code and a teaching manual (see Stemberger 1996: 135-138). For a new take on the Mishnah as a teaching manual, see Alexander (2006). 
*Amram Tropper, "The State of Mishnah Studies," Rabbinic Texts and the History of Late-Roman Palestine, ed. Martin Goodman & Philip Alexander (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 94.

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