Research Programs: Fellowships for College Teachers and Independent Scholars

Period of Performance

7/1/2013 - 6/30/2014

Funding Totals

$50,400.00 (approved)
$50,400.00 (awarded)

Contextualizing Late Antique Rabbinic Narratives in Their Mesopotamian, Eastern Roman, and Persian Cultural Contexts

FAIN: FB-56717-13

Richard Kalmin
Jewish Theological Seminary of America (New York, NY 10027-4649)

I am writing a book that situates rabbinic narratives in their late antique cultural context by reading several rich rabbinic narratives against the background of Mesopotamian, Syriac, Greek, Arabic, Persian, and Ethiopian literature of late antiquity and the early Middle Ages. I argue that Christianity is a crucially important hermeneutical key to the interpretation of late antique rabbinic literature. For example, one chapter examines Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions about the murder of a prophet. I argue that the original story was a Christian Hebrew tale teaching that God had rejected the Israelites, but the rabbis added an Aramaic phrase that transformed it into a meditation on the problems involved in the effectuation of God's compassion in a world without prophets. The Christian character of the Hebrew core is shown by its anomalous character within rabbinic literature, and confirmed by parallels in Christian sources.

Media Coverage

A Thousand and One Sasanian Nights (Review)
Author(s): Dvora Weisberg
Publication: H-Judaisc
Date: 10/2/2015

Here, There, and Everywhere (Review)
Author(s): Amit Gevaryahu
Publication: Marginalia: Los Angeles Review of Books
Date: 2/29/2016

Review of Migrating Tales: The Talmud's Narratives and their Historical Context (Review)
Author(s): Ben Rothke
Publication: The Times of Israel
Date: 4/27/2015

The AncientJewReview interviews Richard Kalmin on his recently published book (Media Coverage)
Author(s): Krista Dalton, Nathan Schumer, Simcha Gross
Publication: AncientJewReview
Date: 11/25/2014

Migrating Tales: A Discussion with Richard Kalmin (Media Coverage)
Date: 2/2/2015
URL: http:

Associated Products

Migrating Tales: The Talmud's Narratives and their Historical Context (Book)
Title: Migrating Tales: The Talmud's Narratives and their Historical Context
Author: Richard Kalmin
Abstract: The major contribution of my book is the advance achieved in identifying the various contexts and influences that came together to produce the Babylonian Talmud (=Bavli), arguably the one ancient composition that determined Jewish religious behavior and belief from the early Middle Ages down to the modern era. the book focuses primarily on narratives, i.e. non-legal portions of the Babylonian Talmud, and seeks to establish what outside groups and literary corpora exerted significant influence upon the original transmitters of these stories, as well as upon the final stages of the Talmud's redaction. While recent scholarship has focused primarily on the Iranian background of the Bavli's development, I argue for a more significant role played by elements of the Roman eastern provinces, as well as that of Christian materials encountered by the rabbis in the regions of Babylonia. My other independent stance is to argue against the current growing consensus that the Bavli was almost totally refashioned by the heavy hands of its final redactors, claiming instead that we can still identify a stratification within the corpus, and thus point to layers dating no later than the fourth century CE, as well as the additions and reworkings of subsequent generations and editors. By making this distinction, I can then compare those earlier strata with contemporary material from the Roman east, as well as early Christian sources that found their way into Iran with the migration--forced as well as voluntary--of populations from the Roman east into the Sasanian Empire.
Year: 2014
Publisher: University of California Press
Type: Single author monograph
ISBN: 9780520277250
Copy sent to NEH?: Yes

The Bavli, the Roman East, and Mesopotamian Christianity (Article)
Title: The Bavli, the Roman East, and Mesopotamian Christianity
Author: Richard Kalmin
Abstract: Scholarly study of the Persian nexus of the Babylonian Talmud began approximately a century and a half ago, but this study has entered a new era of methodological sophistication during the past two decades.In the tremendous enthusiasm for the study of the Talmud in its Persian context, however, some scholars have forgotten the obvious point that it is essential to use all of the cultural contexts at our disposal. The ensuing discussion examines Mesopotamian Christianity as one area where that study is already ongoing and has yielded important results and would greatly benefit from additional research.
Year: 2016
Access Model: Subscription only
Format: Journal
Periodical Title: The Jewish Quarterly Review
Publisher: University of Pennsylvania PressThe Jewish Q