Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Jacob Neusner

So, all I know about Jacob Neusner I learned from other people. I mean I read one or two of his books, and I guess they seemed as reasonable as any other books, but until I started reading some of the more scholarly blogs, I did not realize that the majority of those people, at least in the jblogosphere seem to hold a not so high opinion of Dr. Neusner. Essentially they seem to think that for all his prodigious productivity, he is not a very impressive scholar.

So when I came across the following in the Cambridge Companion to the Talmud and Rabbinic Literature, I was taken a little by surprise:
Over the past several decades, the most important answer to this question has been offered by the brilliant contemporary scholar Jacob Neusner.[What? Was I wrong to listen to those anonymous blog commentators?]. In a series of studies of virtually every rabbinic composition of Late Antiquity, Neusner proposes that the very essence of rabbinic literary creativity is to gather intermediate units of tradition into carefully plotted compositions (documents) that use received textual material to convey fresh propositions about topics crucial to rabbinic Judaism. In short, every rabbinic document, in his view, is supervised by an organizing literary hand that shapes every line in terms of some larger rhetorical, philosophical, legal, or theological program. The important thing about Neusner's proposal is that it is almost certainly wrong. But as historians of ideas well know, one error if a brilliant mind is often more useful than thousands of correct judgements by the rest of us.

Sincere or mocking? A backhanded compliment?


Blogger The Candy Man said...

I read at least two of Neusner's books around 10 years ago. He's not perfect, but he does understand a thing or two about how the Mishna was crafted. (This is from a guy who once memorized half of shas mishna.)

There's a historical development to the Mishna and Tosefta that just hasn't gotten the attention it deserves. There are historical layers. Neusner gets this, and his approach is to try to figure out what line came first, and which one came later. He gets some of it right, I think.

I suggest you check out the books for yourself. I read one called "From Politics to Piety," pretty easy read. I'll bet you can find it on e-bay for 99 cents.

April 01, 2008 10:57 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

Thanks for the book suggestion. I'll check it out.

April 02, 2008 5:45 AM  
Blogger -suitepotato- said...

I am not sure how to make the bold section out. I do know it is the general attitude by scientists towards criticism.

April 02, 2008 5:23 PM  
Blogger The Candy Man said...

Kvetcher, you are forgetting that anonymous blog commenters are *never* wrong.

This explains EVERYTHING.

April 02, 2008 11:13 PM  
Blogger The back of the hill said...

Neusner's translation of the Mishna makes the amterial much more approachable.

Especially compared to Mesorah's translation. Especially when compared to Mesorah's translation!

April 03, 2008 2:37 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home