Halachoth—presumably of all the Halachoth whose validity was recognised so far as known to the compiler; and it deals with every department of practical conduct. Under six main divisions (' Sedarim,' or orders), and sixty - three treatises (' Massichtoth'), the duties of the faithful Israelite are set forth, as positive or negative commands. But the Mishnah contains Haggadah as well as Halachah. Along with the precepts, and the discussions in which they were defined, there are illustrative and explanatory notes, historical and personal reminiscences, designed to show the purpose or explain the meaning of some decision. These are Haggadah ; and they occur in the midst of Halachah, with not the slightest mark to distinguish the one from the other. The amount of Haggadah in the Mishnah, however, is not great compared with that of Halachah. And, in consequence, while the Mishnah is easier to read than the Gemara in point of language, it is far less interesting owing to the scantiness of the human element provided in the Haggadah.
As above stated, the Mishnah was completed somewhere about the year 220 a.d. ; and though at first it only existed as oral teaching, it appears to have been very soon written down. From henceforth it was the standard collection of Halachoth, though other collections existed of which mention will be presently made. As the standard collection of Halachoth, it naturally became in its turn the subject of study, since many of its precepts were of uncertain meaning. To mention only one reason for this, the destruction of the Temple, and the consequent cessation of all the ritual and ceremonial of worship, reduced the precepts connected therewith to a branch of archaeology; while on the other hand, it increased the need of defining with the utmost precision the right practice in those matters, so that it might not be forgotten if ever the time should come for the resumption of the Temple services. And, if some are inclined to think lightly of the time and thought spent upon questions which could have no practical outcome for those who debated them, there is still a pathetic and even a heroic aspect in the toil which preserved a sacred memory so that it might keep alive a no less sacred hope.
The Mishnah, then, became in its turn the subject of commentary, interpretation and expansion. The name given to this superadded commentary is GSmarii, which means ' completion.' But, whereas there is only one Mishnah, there are two Gemaras. The Mishnah was studied not only in the schools of Palestine, but also in those of Babylonia. And by the labours of these two groups of teachers there was developed a Palestinian Gemara and a Babylonian Gemara. In course of time the same need for codification of the growing mass of Tradition began to be felt in regard to the Gemaras which had previously led to the formation of the Mishnah. The Gemara of Palestine was ended,—not completed,—towards the close of the fourth century; while it was not until the sixth century that the Gemara of Babylonia was reduced to the form in which we now have it. The name Talmud is given to the whole corpus of Mishnah plus Gemara; and thus it is usual to distinguish between the Palestinian
Talmud (otherwise known as the Talmud of Jerusalem) and the Babylonian Talmud.1
To give any account of the multifarious contents of either Talmud, even of that of Jerusalem, which is much shorter and simpler than that of Babylon, would be a work of great length and difficulty, almost amounting indeed to a translation of the huge work with the commentaries upon it. Briefly, it consists (in both Talmuds) of a series of discussions upon the several Halachoth contained in the Mish-nah. In the course of these discussions, all manner of digressions interrupt the argument, — personal anecdotes, speculations upon points of theology or philosophy, fragments of history, scraps of science, folklore, travellers' tales—in short, anything and everything that could be supposed to have even the remotest connection with the subject under discussion are brought in, to the grievous perplexity of the reader. To add to the difficulty, this chaotic mass is printed in an unpointed text, with no stops except at the end of a paragraph, and no sort of mark to distinguish the various elements one from the other. And, finally, the language of the two Gemaras (based
1 The Hebrew names are 'Talmud Jerushalmi,' and 'T. Babli' respectively. I do not know why the former is called T. Jerushalmi; because, of the various schools in which it was developed, probably none, certainly none of any importance, had' its seat in Jerusalem. It is usually understood that residence in Jerusalem was forbidden to Jews after the last war, in 135 a.d. Yet it is stated (b. Pes. 113") that R. Johanan, one of the founders of the Palestinian Gemara, cited a tradition " in the name of the men of Jerusalem." On the whole, however, it seems to me most probable that the Palestinian Talmud was merely called after the* name of the capital city, as indeed the T. Babli may be said to have been called after the name of the capital city of the land where the chief Rabbinical schools of the East flourished for centuries.
upon eastern and western Aramaic respectively) is far more difficult than that of the Mishnah, being, as it is, concise to a degree that Thucydides might have envied, and Tacitus striven in vain to imitate. It is full of technical terms and foreign words, which are the despair of the reader who knows only his Hebrew Bible. Yet there is order and method even in the Talmud, and it is a great mistake to suppose that its contents may be treated as a series of unconnected sentences, whose meaning is clear apart from their context, and without reference to the deep underlying principles which give vitality to the whole. The passages which will presently be cited from the Talmud may serve as illustrations of what has been said, so far as mere translations, however literal, can represent an original text so peculiar and so bizarre; and, in presenting them apart from their context, I trust I have not been unmindful of the caution just given.
The twofold Talmud is by far the most important work of the early Rabbinical literature. Yet there are others, dating from the same centuries, which can by no means be passed by unnoticed. It was stated above that the Mishnah was not the only collection of Halachoth, though it was adopted as the standard. To say nothing of the fact that the Gemaras contain many Halachoth not included in the Mishnah (hence called ' Baraitha,' i.e. external), there exists at least one independent collection of Halachoth, as a sort of rival to the Mishnah. This is known as Tosephta, a name which means ' addition' or ' supplement,' as if it had been intended merely to supply what was wanting in the standard work. Yet it is not improbable that the existing Mishnah and the existing Tosephta are only two out of many contemporary collections great or small, two compilations founded upon the works of many previous teachers, and that of these two, " one was taken and the other left." The two collections might almost have exchanged names, so that what is now known as the Mishnah might conceivably have come to be looked upon as Tosephta to the other. And, although the one enjoys a sort of canonical authority not recognised in the other, yet for historical purposes they are both of equal value, since both contain traditions dating from the earliest centuries of the common era. The contents of Tosephta are, as will have appeared above, mainly Halachah; but Haggadah also is found, as in the case of the Mishnah, and in greater abundance.
The works above described, viz., Mishnah, Gemaras, and Tosephta, have for their common purpose the development and definition of Halachah as the rule for the right conduct of life, the expansion into minute detail of the principle, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God xvith all thy heart and soul and strength. But the Rabbinical literature includes another very extensive class of works, in which the same principle is dealt with in a somewhat different manner. The generic name for works of this class is ' Midrash,' i.e. exposition; and the common characteristic of them all is that they are free commentaries upon books or portions of books of the O.T. Perhaps commentary is hardly the right word; for the Midrash does not profess to explain every point of difficulty in the text with which it deals, and, as a rule, it makes no reference to grammatical and linguistic questions. The purpose of the Midrash is to expound the Scriptures with a view to edification and instruction, from the standpoint not of the scholar but of the preacher. And probably the contents of the various Midrashim are collected extracts from the sermons, as we might call them, of the Rabbis to their hearers, either in the synagogues or the schools. The general plan of a Midrash is to take a book or selected passages of a book of the O.T., and to arrange under each separate verse in order the expositions of several Rabbis. The connexion between the text and the exposition is often very slight; and, just as in the case of the Gemaras, digressions are frequent, as opportunity offers for bringing in some interesting but irrelevant topic. The method of Tradition is followed in the Midrash, though not with the same strictness as in the Talmud. Most of the expository notes are given in the name of some Rabbi, and of course the whole body of Midrash is now Tradition. But a good deal of the contents of many Midrashim is anonymous, and therefore presumably due to the compiler. In no instance in the Rabbinical literature can we say that any individual Rabbi is the author of such and such a work; at most he is the editor. But a nearer approach is made to individual authorship in the Midrash than in the Talmudic literature.
Midrash, then, is homiletic exposition of Scripture. And it will be seen from what has been said above, that the distinction between Halachah and Haggadah is applicable no less to the Midrash than to the
Talmud. That is to say, there can be Midrash whose chief purpose is to connect Halachah with Scripture, and again Midrash which chiefly aims at connecting Haggadah with Scripture. Of these two classes, the Halachic Midrashim are the more ancient, the Haggadic by far the more numerous. Of the Halachic Midrashim, the chief works are Sipkra, on the book of Leviticus; Siphri, on Numbers and Deuteronomy; and Mechilta, upon parts of Exodus. These were compiled, according to Zunz, at a later date than the Mishnah, but contain in part older material. And while they do not exclude Haggadah, where the text suggests it, they are prevailingly Halachic, since a great part of the text dealt with is concerned with the ceremonial law. Sipkra and Siphri are frequently made use of in the Talmud.1
The Haggadic Midrashim are very numerous, and the period of their production covers several centuries. Even the earliest of them is much later as regards date of compilation than the earliest Halachic Midrash. There is more need, on this account, of caution in using their statements as historical evidence. Yet, since those statements rest on tradition, and refer to many well-known names, there seems no reason why they should—other reasons apart—be denied all historical value. I have therefore made use of what the Midrash offered for my purpose, with, I trust, due critical caution. Of the Haggadic Midrashim, the most important in point of extent is the so-called Midrash Rabbah (or M. Rabboth), a collection of expositions upon the
1 See Zunz, " Gotteud. Vortr. d. Juden," pp. 46-48.
Pentateuch and the five Megilloth (i.e. Ruth, Esther, Lamentations, Song of Songs, and Ecclesiastes). The ten Midrashim are of very various date, and were not gathered into one great collection till as late as the thirteenth century. Other Midrashim, of similar character, are Tanhuma, or Jelam'denu, on the Pentateuch, Pesiqta on selected passages, and Jalqut Shim'oni on the whole of the O.T., being a vast collection of extracts from earlier Midrashim. For details concerning these and many similar works, I refer the reader to the books of Zunz, Hamburger, and others mentioned above. My object in this introduction is not to give a bibliography of Rabbinical literature, but to indicate the general scope and method of that literature, so that the reader may have some idea of the sources whence the passages, which will presently be given, have been extracted.
It will now be possible, as it is highly desirable, to attempt an answer to the question, What is the value, as historical evidence, of the Rabbinical literature? Can any reliance be placed upon statements found in works whose main purpose was not to impart exact knowledge of facts, but to give religious and moral teaching ?
Nothing is easier than to pick out from the Talmud and the Midrash statements in regard to historical events, which are palpably and even monstrously false, and that, too, when the events referred to were not very far removed from the lifetime of the author of the statements. And the conclusion is ready to hand, that if, in regard to events almost within living memory, such error was possible, reliance cannot be placed upon statements concerning events more remote. Yet that hasty conclusion is refuted by the fact that the statements referring to historical events are sometimes confirmed by external testimony, such as the writings of non-Jewish historians, and sometimes, when not directly confirmed, are still in accordance with such external testimony. No one would dream of accepting as true all the historical statements of the Talmud and Midrash; but they are certainly not all false. And it ought not to be, and I believe is not, beyond the power of a careful criticism, to distinguish with some degree of probability the historically true from the historically false.
It must be borne in mind that the whole of the literature under consideration is a collection of Traditions. Now, while such a method of retaining and transmitting knowledge is exposed to the dangers of omission, addition, and alteration in a greater degree than is the case with written documents, yet on the other hand the fact that such a method was alone employed implies that the power of memory was cultivated and improved also in a greater degree than is usual with those who only or chiefly make use of writing. The Talmud and Midrash afford illustrations of both these propositions; for while we find that varying forms are handed down of one and the same tradition, the difference in the form shows that the tradition was the subject of remembrance in several minds and over considerable periods of time. It must also be borne in mind that the Talmud is not "a dateless book," as it has been called, but that the main points in its chronology are well known, being determined by the biographical data of the leading Rabbis. The researches of W. Bacher1 have shown beyond dispute that these biographical data are, on the whole, mutually consistent ; and thus we are provided with a firm foundation on which to rest a case for the credibility of the Rabbinical records. If the whole were a mere tissue of extravagant inventions, there would be no such consistency ; and further, it is often possible to mark where the historical tradition leaves off and the legendary invention begins. Thus, R. Jehoshua b. Levi is a perfectly well-known historical figure, and one whose name occurs numberless times in the Talmud and Midrash ; of him various facts are* related which there is no reason to call in question, while in addition other stories are told—such as his conversation with the Angel of Death (b. Keth. 77b) —which are plainly imaginary.
In judging, then, of the reliability, as historical evidence, of the Rabbinical records, we must take as our guide, in the first instance, the chronology of the lives of the Rabbis themselves, and note whether their statements refer to matters nearly or quite contemporary. Thus, when Rabbi A. says that on a certain occasion he walked with Rabbi B. who told him so and so, or again, that when he was a boy he remembered seeing Rabbi C. who did so and so, he is presumably speaking of things well within his know-
1 " Agada der Tannaïten," " Ag. der Palestinensischen Amoràer," " Ag. d. Ba'bylonischen Amoraer." Bacher is not the only scholar who has dealt with Rabbinical biography ; but so far as I know, his work is much more thorough and complete than any other on the same subject ; and I would here express my very great obligation for the help I have derived from the invaluable works I have named above.
ledge. And though these incidental remarks may refer to things in themselves very trivial, yet they serve to extend the region of credibility. Indeed, it is perhaps in these incidental remarks that the largest harvest of historical fact is to be gathered. Because they are usually the illustration, drawn from the actual knowledge and experience of the teacher who mentions them, of the subject with which he is dealing. A Rabbi, especially one who was skilful in Haggadah, would permit himself any degree of exaggeration or invention even in regard to historical persons and events, if thereby he could produce a greater impression. Thus, an event so terribly well known as the great war, which ended with the death of Bar Cocheba and the capture of Bethar in 135 a.d., was magnified in the description of its horrors beyond all bounds of possibility. And probably no one was better aware of the exaggeration than the Rabbi who uttered it.1 But then the purpose of that Rabbi would be, not to give his hearers an exact account of the great calamity, but to dwell on the horror of it, and to burn it in upon the minds of the people as a thing never to be forgotten. Yet there are many incidental remarks about the events of the war which are free from such exaggeration, and being in no way improbable in themselves, are such as might well have been known to the relater of them. The long passage b. Gitt. 57a-58a contains a variety of statements about the wars of Nero, Vespasian, and Hadrian; it is reported to a considerable extent by R. Johanan, whose informant was R. Shim'on b.
1 Cp. what is said below, p. 252, as to Rabbinical statements concerning the former population of Palestine.
Johai, who himself took part in the last war. No one would dream of crediting the assertion that for seven years the vineyards in Palestine needed and received no other manure than the blood of those slain in the war. But the story that young Ishmael b. Elisha was carried captive to Rome, and discovered there and released, is in every way probable. Ishmael b. Elisha was the name of two very well-known Rabbis, one the grandson of the other, and the younger being the contemporary and rival of Aqiba. Nothing is more likely than that stories of the lives and adventures of these men should have been told amongst their friends and remembered in later times. Such stories must of course be judged on their own merits. But if they are in themselves reasonable and probable, there is nothing to discredit them in the mere fact that they are found in works like the Talmud and Midrash, embedded in a mass of Haggadic speculation. Neither Talmud nor Midrash were intended primarily to teach history; but from the manner of their origin and growth, they could hardly fail to show some traces of contemporary history. Therefore, in place of condemning as apocryphal all and sundry of the allusions to historical personages and events contained in the Talmud and Midrash, we may and ought to distinguish amongst them. And perhaps we may make some approach to a general canon of criticism on the subject, if we say that in the literature referred to, the obiter dicta are of most value as evidence of historical fact; or, in other words, there is more reason to suspect exaggeration or invention in statements which appear to form part of the main line of the argument, than in those which appear to be merely illustrative notes, added to the text and embedded in it. The purpose of Haggadah (to which all these historical references belong) is homiletic ; it aims at building up religious and moral character by every means other than the discipline of positive precept (see above, p. 12). Reference to historical fact was only one, and by no means the most important, form of Haggadah. Since it is in Haggadah that the Rabbinical mind found the outlet for its instinct of speculative inquiry, and the play of its fancy and imagination, as already explained, it is natural to expect that these will be most prominent and most abundant in Haggadic passages because most in accordance with the genius of Haggadah. When, accordingly, we find in the midst of such fanciful and exaggerated passages occasional statements which appear to be plain, sober matter of fact, there is the more reason to accept the latter as being historically reliable (at least intended to be so), because the author (or narrator) might have increased their effect as illustrations by free invention, and has chosen not to do so. I say that such statements may be accepted as being at least intended to be historically reliable. They must be judged on their merits, and where possible tested by such methods as would be applied to any other statements professedly historical. The narrator who gives them may have been wrongly informed, or may have incorrectly, remembered ; but my point is that in such statements he intends to relate what he believes to be matter of fact, and not to indulge his imagination.
I have made this attempt to work out a canon of criticism for the historical value of the Rabbinical literature, because such a canon seems to me to be greatly needed. So far as I am competent to judge, it appears to me that Jewish historians—as is only natural—make a far more legitimate and intelligent use of the Rabbinical literature for historical purposes than is generally to be observed in the writings of Christian historians who have dealt with that literature. Even in the works of Keim and Schiirer, whose scholarship is above reproach, I do not remember to have found any attempt to set forth the principles on which they make use of the Rabbinical literature for historical purposes. And it is perhaps not too much to say that in most Christian writings that touch upon the Rabbinical literature there is little or no appearance of any such principles; sometimes, indeed, there is a mere reproduction of statements from previous writers, which the borrower has not verified and not always understood.
The principle which I have stated above will, of course, find its illustration in the treatment of the passages from the Rabbinical literature to be presently examined. That is to say, an attempt will be made to estimate the historical value of the statements contained in them. But it should be observed that for historical purposes they may be valuable in one or both of two ways. Whether or not they establish the fact that such and such an event took place, they at least establish the fact that such and such a belief was held in reference to the alleged event, or the person concerned in it. Thus we shall find that several instances are mentioned of miracles alleged to have been worked by Jews or Christians. The mere statement does not prove that these were actu ally performed, any more than the mere statement of the N.T. writers proves that the alleged miracles of Jesus and the Apostles were actually performed. But in the one case or in the other, the record of alleged miracles, made in all good faith, is clear proof of the belief that such events did take place and had taken place.
So also we shall find many instances of discussion upon topics chiefly scriptural, between Jewish Rabbis and certain persons called Minim.1 Now the record of such discussions may be, in a given case, inaccurate; but it is proof positive of the belief that such discussions had actually occurred, and indeed may be said to establish not merely the belief but the fact that they had occurred. Therefore, whatever may be the amount of actual historical fact established by the passages from the Rabbinical writings examined in the present work, they will at least have the value (and it is no slight one) that belongs to records of opinion and belief upon the subject for the illustration of which they have been chosen.
To the consideration of those passages I will now proceed, having given what I trust may be a sufficient, as well as a reliable, explanation of their nature and origin. I merely premise one word as to the classification of them, and the method by which 1 shall deal with their contents. The subjects referred to in them are so various that an exhaustive classification would involve a great deal of repetition, since one passage might be appropriately placed under each of several heads. This might be avoided by arranging them
1 The whole question of the interpretation of the word Minim will be dealt with hereafter.
in the order of their occurrence in the Talmudic treatises and the several Midrashim. But such an arrangement would not afford the slightest help to the reader who wished to find what was said upon a given subject, e.g. the Christian scriptures. The same objection would apply to a chronological classification, according to which the passages should be arranged under the dates of the several Rabbis responsible for them.
I have thought it best to make a classification according to the main subject dealt with in each passage. I place first of all the passages referring to Jesus ; then, the much larger group of those relating to followers of Jesus. Each passage or series of passages will have its title, indicating the main subject to which it refers; and an index of all the titles will be found in the table of contents. Under each title will be given the translation of one or more passages, bearing upon the particular topic, together with sufficient commentary to explain its meaning and its connexion with the main subject. The Hebrew and Aramaic texts, numbered consecutively to correspond with the translated passages, will be collected in an appendix. Following upon the translations and commentaries, a concluding chapter will sum up the general results of the inquiry, under the two main heads of the Tradition concerning Jesus and the Tradition concerning the Minim.
PASSAGES FROM THE RABBINICAL LITER A TURE,
Was this article helpful?