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The Comparative Study of “Scholasticism” in Late Antique Mesopotamia: Rabbis and East Syrians

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 April 2010

Adam H. Becker*
New York University, New York, New York
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Now is an appropriate time to reconsider the historiographical benefit that a comparative study of the East Syrian (“Nestorian”) schools and the Babylonian rabbinic academies may offer. This is attributable both to the recent, rapid increase in scholarship on Jewish–Christian relations in the Roman Empire and late antiquity more broadly, and to the return by some scholars of rabbinic Judaism to the issues of a scholarly exchange of the late 1970s and early 1980s about the nature of rabbinic academic institutionalization. Furthermore, over the past twenty years, scholars of classics, Greek and Roman history, and late antiquity have significantly added to the bibliography on the transmission of knowledge—in lay person's terms, education—in the Greco-Roman and early Christian worlds. Schools continue to be an intense topic of conversation, and my own recent work on the School of Nisibis and the East Syrian schools in general suggests that the transformations and innovations of late antiquity also occurred in the Sasanian Empire, at a great distance from the centers of classical learning, such as Athens, Alexandria, and Antioch. The recently reexamined East Syrian sources may help push the conversation about rabbinic academic institutionalization forward. However, the significance of this issue is not simply attributable to its bearing on the social and institutional history of rabbinic institutions. Such inquiry may also reflect on how we understand the Babylonian Talmud and on the difficult redaction history of its constituent parts. Furthermore, I hope that the discussion offered herein will contribute to the ongoing analysis of the late antique creation and formalization of cultures of learning, which were transmitted, in turn, into the Eastern (i.e., Islamic and “Oriental” Christian and Jewish) and Western Middle Ages within their corresponding communities.

Research Article
Copyright © Association for Jewish Studies 2010

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* This article is based on a paper given at the Annual Conference of the Association for Jewish Studies in 2005. I thank those who provided feedback at the time, as well as Jeffrey Rubenstein, Natalie Dohrmann, Ra‘anan Boustan, and especially Michael Pregill and Bridget Purcell. I also thank those in attendance when I presented a later version in the fall of 2007 at the Center for the Study of Early Christianity, Department of Semitic and Egyptian Languages and Literatures, Catholic University of America. The anonymous reader provided a number of helpful suggestions for which I am also grateful, and I thank Peter Schäfer for helping me with a missing reference.

1. See, e.g., Becker, Adam H. and Reed, Annette Y., The Ways That Never Parted: Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, 2nd ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007)Google Scholar; Yuval, Israel J., Two Nations in Your Womb: Perceptions of Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, trans. Harshav, Barbara and Chipman, Jonathan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006)Google Scholar; and Boyarin, Daniel, Border Lines, The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004)Google Scholar.

2. The bibliography is large. For late antiquity, see, recently, Layton's, Richard A.Didymus the Blind and His Circle in Late-Antique Alexandria: Virtue and Narrative in Biblical Scholarship (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004)Google Scholar, and Watts, Edward, City and School in Late Antique Athens and Alexandria (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

3. Becker, Adam H., Fear of God and the Beginning of Wisdom: The School of Nisibis and the Development of Scholastic Culture in Late Antique Mesopotamia (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and idem, Sources for the Study of the School of Nisibis, Translated Texts for Historians (Liverpool: University of Liverpool Press, 2008). For another recent work, see Bettiolo, Paolo, “Scuole e ambienti intellettuali nelle chiese di Siria,” in Storia della filosofia nell'Islam medievale, ed. D'Ancona, Cristina (Torino: Giulio Einaudi, 2006), 1:48100Google Scholar.

4. Daniel Chwolson, Syrische Grabinschriften aus Semiretschie, Mémoires de l'Académie Impériale des Sciences de St. Pétersbourg, VIIe série, Tome XXXIV, No. 4 (1886); VIIe série, Tome XXXVII, No. 8 (1890); and idem, Syrische Grabinschriften aus Semiretschie. Neue Folge, Bulletin de l'Académie impériale des Sciences de Saint-Pétersbourg, Ve série, VI (1897).

5. Klein, Wassilios, Das nestorianische Christentum an den Handelswegen durch Kyrgyzstan bis zum 14. Jh., Silk Road Studies III (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2000)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

6. For a recent publication of Uighur inscriptions in Syriac script, see Ruji, Niu, “Nestorian Grace Inscription from Quanzhou (Zaitun), China,” Journal of the Canadian Society for Syriac Studies 5 (2005): 5167Google Scholar.

7. Klein, Das nestorianische Christentum an den Handelswegen durch Kyrgyzstan bis zum 14. Jh., 260–61.

8. This would also beg the question, why is there a large community of lawyers in Mongol-period Kyrgyzstan? In any case, why would lawyers have proliferated in the Mongol-period Kyrgyzstan?

9. On the ’eskolāyā as social type, see Becker, Fear of God, 12, 19–20. On other school titles, see Klein, Das nestorianische Christentum an den Handelswegen durch Kyrgyzstan bis zum 14. Jh., 268–69.

10. The word sometimes appears as ’eskolā, which corresponds better to a singular Syriac noun. The long e (ē) ending is often marked in manuscripts by the seyame, which is the double dot placed above a Syriac word to mark it as plural, as such a long e (ē) is common to masculine plural nouns.

11. See the works cited in note 3 herein. For earlier works, see Labourt, Jérôme, Le Christianisme dans l'Empire Perse, sous la Dynastie Sassanide (224–632) (Paris: V. Lecoffre, 1904), 288301Google Scholar; Vööbus, Arthur, History of the School of Nisibis, CSCO 266 (Louvain: Peeters, 1965)Google Scholar; and Macina, Robert, “L'homme à l’école de Dieu. D'Antioche à Nisibe: Profil herméneutique, théologique et kérugmatique du mouvement scoliaste nestorien,” Proche-Orient Chrétien 32 (1982): 87124Google Scholar, 263–301; 33 (1983): 39–103.

12. For a general history of this church to the present, see Baum, Wilhelm and Winkler, Dietmar W., The Church of the East: A Concise History (London: Routledge, 2003)Google Scholar, first published as Die Apostolische Kirche des Ostens (Klagenfurt: Verlag Kitab, 2000). On the formation of a distinct church, see, e.g., the bibliography cited in Becker, Fear of God, 12.

13. Becker, Fear of God, 155–68.

14. Fiey, J.-M., “Topographie Chrétienne de Mahozé,” L'Orient Syrien 12 (1967): 397420Google Scholar, repr., Communautés syriaques en Iran et Irak des origins à 1552 (London: Variorum, 1979), chap. 9; and Becker, Fear of God, 157–59.

15. The sources are thin, and there is no chronological overlap. However, because Nisibis shows up in rabbinic sources, some have tried to draw connections to the Christian school there. Rabbi Yehudah ben Bathyra, a first-century rabbi (Tanna), is said to have been an agent in charge of the transfer of Temple funds from Jews in the region of Nisibis to Jerusalem. See, e.g., Neusner, Jacob, History of the Jews in Babylonia (Leiden: Brill, 1965–), 1:4348Google Scholar.

16. For a similar comparative point, see Becker, Fear of God, 167.

17. Goodblatt, David, Rabbinic Instruction in Sasanian Babylonia (Leiden: Brill, 1975)Google Scholar, e.g., 267–72. For the fully developed geonic academies, see Brody, Robert, The Geonim of Babylonia and the Shaping of Medieval Jewish Culture (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998)Google Scholar. For a recent elementary discussion of rabbinic Babylonia, see Gafni, Isaiah, “Babylonian Rabbinic Culture,” in Culture of the Jews, vol. 1, Mediterranean Origins, ed. Biale, David (New York: Schocken, 2002), 223–65Google Scholar.

18. Note also that the rabbinic usage of the term for a portion of text can also be found in the Syriac sources, particularly for a liturgical portion or part of the Psalter; see, e.g., Smith, J. Payne, ed., A Compendious Syriac Dictionary (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1998), 260Google Scholar, cf. Gr. káthisma.

19. Goodblatt, David, “Local Traditions in the Bavli,” Hebrew Union College Annual 48 (1977): 187217Google Scholar.

20. Miller, Stuart S., Sages and Commoners in Late Antique ’Ereẓ Israel: A Philological Inquiry into Local Traditions in Talmud Yerushalmi (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2006)Google Scholar; and Hezser, Catherine, The Social Structure of the Rabbinic Movement in Roman Palestine (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1997)Google Scholar.

21. See, e.g., Gafni, I. M., “Yeshivah u-Metivta” (Yeshivah and Metivta), Zion 43 (1978): 1237Google Scholar. Gafni's 1978 dissertation at the Hebrew University was on the Babylonian yeshivah.

22. Gafni, I. M., Yehude Bavel bi-tekufat ha-Talmud: ḥaye ha-ḥevrah veha-ruaḥ [The Jews of Babylonia in the Talmudic Era: A Social and Cultural History] (Jerusalem: Merkaz Zalman Shazar, 1990)Google Scholar.

23. Lightstone, Jack N., “The Institutionalization of the Rabbinic Academy in Late Sassanid Babylonia and the Redaction of the Babylonian Talmud,” Sciences religieuses/Studies in Religion 22, no. 2 (1993): 167–86CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

24. Ephrat, Daphna and Elman, Yaakov, “Orality and the Institutionalization of Tradition: The Growth of the Geonic Yeshiva and the Islamic Madrasa,” in Transmitting Jewish Traditions: Orality, Textuality, and Cultural Diffusion, ed. Elman, Yaakov and Gershoni, Israel (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000), 109110Google Scholar.

25. Goodblatt, David, “The History of the Babylonian Academies,” in The Cambridge History of Judaism, vol. 4, The Late Roman-Rabbinic Period, ed. Katz, Steven T. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 821–39Google Scholar. There is also a summary of this exchange in R. S. Chapin, “Mesopotamian Scholasticism: A Comparison of the Jewish and Christian ‘Schools’” (DHL thesis, Hebrew Union College, 1990).

26. Rubenstein, Jeffrey L., ed., Creation and Composition: The Contribution of the Bavli Redactors (Stammaim) to the Aggada (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2005)Google Scholar.

27. Rubenstein, Jeffrey, “The Rise of the Babylonian Rabbinic Academy: A Reexamination of the Talmudic Evidence,” Jewish Studies, an Internet Journal 1 (2002): 5568Google Scholar.

28. Cf. David Halivni, “Aspects of the Formation of the Talmud,” in Creation and Composition, 346.

29. Rubenstein, Jeffrey L., “Social and Institutional Settings of Rabbinic Literature,” in The Cambridge Companion to the Talmud and Rabbinic Literature, ed. Fonrobert, Charlotte Elisheva and Jaffee, Martin S. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 70Google Scholar.

30. See the comments by Adiel Schremer, “Stammaitic Historiography,” in Creation and Composition, 219–35.

31. I thank the anonymous reviewer for pushing me on this question and regret that I am unable to address it in any detail. The various Christian catena traditions are directly related to this issue.

32. See note 1 herein.

33. Becker and Reed, The Ways That Never Parted, 1–24 (“Introduction: Traditional Models and New Directions”).

34. Schäfer, Peter, Mirror of His Beauty: Feminine Images of God from the Bible to the Early Kabbalah (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002)Google Scholar, esp. 229–35.

35. Syriac is a literary dialect deriving originally from Edessa in Osrhoene in northwestern Mesopotamia. Christians farther east in Mesopotamia spoke a dialect closer to Jewish Babylonian Aramaic. For later Christian dialects and their relation to Jewish Babylonian Aramaic, see Fox, Samuel E., “North-Eastern Neo-Aramaic and the Middle Aramaic Dialects,” in Neo-Aramaic Dialect Studies, ed. Khan, Geoffrey (Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2008), 117Google Scholar.

36. Hayes, Christine E., Between the Babylonian and Palestinian Talmuds: Accounting for Halakhic Difference in Selected Sugyot from Tractate Avodah Zarah (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 142–43Google Scholar.

37. For a recent survey of Christian archeology, including a discussion of the need for further work, see Hauser, Stefan R., “Christliche Archäologie im Sasanidenreich: Grundlagen der Interpretation und Bestandsaufnahme der Evidenz,” in Inkulturation des Chrstentums im Sasanidenreich, ed. Mustafa, Arafa and Tubach, Jürgen with Vashalomidze, G. Sophia (Wiesbaden: Reichert, 2007), 93136Google Scholar.

38. Wasserstrom, Steven M., Between Muslim and Jew: The Problem of Symbiosis under Early Islam (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

39. Griffith, Sidney H., The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque: Christians and Muslims in the World of Islam (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008), 106–28Google Scholar.

40. A major step forward was offered by Morony, Michael in his Iraq after the Muslim Conquest (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984)Google Scholar. See, more recently, the dissertation of his student, Scott J. McDonough, “Power by Negotiation: Institutional Reform in the Fifth Century Sasanian Empire” (PhD diss., University of California, Los Angeles, 2005).

41. See, e.g., Elman, Yaakov, “Acculturation to Elite Persian Norms and Modes of Thought in the Babylonian Jewish Community of Late Antiquity,” in Neti'ot Ledavid, Jubilee Volume for David Weiss Halivni, ed. Elman, Yaakov et al. (Jerusalem: Orhot, 2004), 3156Google Scholar; idem, “Middle Persian Culture and Babylonian Sages: Accommodation and Resistance in the Shaping of Rabbinic Legal Tradition,” in The Cambridge Companion to the Talmud and Rabbinic Literature, ed. Charlotte Elisheva Fonrobert and Martin S. Jaffe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 165–97; and idem, “The Other in the Mirror: Iranians and Jews View One Another: Questions of Identity, Conversion and Exogamy in the Fifth-Century Iranian Empire,” Iranian and Zoroastrian Studies in Honor of Prods Oktor Skjærvø, Bulletin of the Asia Institute 19 (2005 [2009]): 15–25. Recent interest in this area is attested by the conference “The Talmud in Its Iranian Context,” held at the Center for Jewish Studies, University of California, Los Angeles, May 6–7, 2007.

42. Secunda, Shai, “Talmudic Text and Iranian Context: On the Development of Two Talmudic Narratives (b. Niddah 20b; b. Sanhedrin 37a),” AJS Review 33, no. 1 (2009): 4565CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

43. Herman, Geoffrey, “Ahasuerus, the Former Stable-Master of Belshazzar, and the Wicked Alexander of Macedon: Two Parallels between the Babylonian Talmud and Persian Sources,” AJS Review 29, no. 2 (2005): 283–97CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

44. Ibid., 287.

45. Ibid., 285–86.

46. Ibid., 287.

47. Walker, Joel, Narrative and Christian Heroism in Late Antique Iraq: The Legend of Mar Qardagh the Assyrian (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006)Google Scholar, e.g., 126–31.

48. See, e.g., Budge, E. A. Wallis, The History of Alexander the Great: Being the Syriac Version Edited from Five Manuscripts, of the Pseudo-Callisthenes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1889; repr., Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2003)Google Scholar. For recent work on this material, see Reinink, Gerrit J., “Alexander the Great in the Seventh-Century Syriac ‘Apocalyptic’ Texts,” Byzantinorossica 2 (2003): 150–78Google Scholar, repr., Syriac Christianity under Late Sassanian and Early Islamic Rule (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005), chap. 6; and Ciancaglini, C. A., “The Syriac Version of the Alexander Romance,” Le Muséon 114 (2001): 121–40CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

49. Sperber, Daniel, “On the Unfortunate Adventures of Rav Kahana: A Passage of Saboraic Polemic from Sasanian Persia,” Irano-Judaica I, ed. Shaked, Shaul (Jerusalem: Ben-Zvi Institute, 1982), 83100Google Scholar.

50. See, e.g., Gafni, I. M., “Ḥibburim nestoryani'im k-maqor l-toledot yeshivot bavel” [Nestorian Literature as a Source for the History of the Babylonian Yeshivot], Tarbiz 51 (1982): 573–74Google Scholar.

51. Sokoloff, Michael, A Dictionary of Jewish Babylonian Aramaic of the Talmudic and Geonic Periods (Ramat-Gan: Bar-Ilan University Press; Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002), 720Google Scholar, provides two separate entries for metivta (1. site, academic session, members of an assembly, academy; 2. literary unit of traditional study, lesson). Precisely these two distinct but related meanings are attested in Syriac: mawtbha can mean study session or semester, but also it is commonly used for portions of the Psalter in the West Syrian tradition.

52. Ibid., 800.

53. Ibid., 1082.

54. Gafni, “Ḥibburim nestoryani'im k-maqor l-toledot yeshivot bavel,” 572; and Sokoloff, Dictionary of Jewish Babylonian Aramaic, 581.

55. See, e.g., Barḥadbešabba ‘Arbaya, Cause de la fondation des écoles, ed. Scher, A., Patrologia Orientalis 4 (1908): 393.4394.7Google Scholar.

56. Bedjan, Paul, ed., Acta martyrum et sanctorum syriace, 7 vols. (Paris, 1890–97; repr., Hildesheim: O. Harrassowitz, 1968)Google Scholar, 2:564, line 13; and idem, ed., Histoire de Mar-Jabalaha et trois autres Patriarches, d'un prêtre et deux laïques nestoriens (Paris/Leipzig: O. Harrassowitz, 1895), 411.2.

57. The classic piece on this topic for the rabbinic sources is Elias Bi[c]kerman[n], “La Chaîne de la Tradition Pharisienne,” Revue Biblique 59 (1952): 44–54. See comments in Becker, Fear of God, 107–110.

58. See, e.g., Barḥadbešabba ‘Arbaya, Cause de la fondation des écoles, 337.1.

59. On the pirka, see, e.g., Sokoloff, Dictionary of Jewish Babylonian Aramaic, 906–907; and Rubenstein, “Social and Institutional Settings of Rabbinic Literature,” 67–69. For a more detailed discussion, especially on the question of the pirka creating a link to the broader Jewish community, see Gafni, Isaiah, “‘Al derashot be-ẓibbur ba-vavel ha-talumidit: Ha-pirka” [On Sermons in Public in Talmudic Babylonia: The Pirka], in Keneset ‘Ezra: sifrut ve-ḥayim be-vet ha-keneset, asupat ma'amarim mugeshet le-‘Ezra Flaisher, ed. Eliẓur, Shulamit et al. (Jerusalem: Yad Yiẓḥak Ben-Ẓvi, 1994), 121–29Google Scholar. On the ‘elltha (cause) genre, see Becker, Fear of God, 101–106.

60. Brock, Sebastian P., “The Prayer of the Heart in Syriac Tradition,” Sobornost/Eastern Churches Review 4:2 (1982): 131–42Google Scholar, repr., Forms of Devotion: Conversion, Worship, Spirituality, and Asceticism, ed. Everett Ferguson (New York: Garland, 1999), 133–44.

61. Although this idea goes back to an earlier period, it was developed by both traditions. See Schäfer, Peter, Rivalität zwischen Engeln und Menschen: Untersuchungen zur rabbinischen Engelvorstellung (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1975)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; for East Syrian sources, see, e.g., Narsai, Homélies sur la Création, ed. and trans. Ph. Gignoux, PO 34:3, 4 (1968), I.230ff; and Barḥadbešabba ‘Arbaya, Cause de la fondation des écoles, 350.8ff.

62. Geoffrey Herman, “Rashut ha-golah be-Vavel bi-tekufat ha-Talmud” [The Babylonian Exilarchate in the Sasanian Period] (PhD diss., Hebrew University, 2005). See recent comments in Seth Schwartz, “The Political Geography of Rabbinic Texts,” in The Cambridge Companion to the Talmud and Rabbinic Literature, 90–93.

63. See, e.g., comments in Smith, J. Z., Drudgery Divine: On the Comparison of Early Christianities and the Religions of Late Antiquity (London: University of London, 1990), 114Google Scholar. By “parallelomania,” I refer to the term made famous by Samuel Sandmel in “Parallelomania,” Journal of Biblical Literature 81 (1962): 1–13.

64. However, the East Syrians did have a rather positive notion of “divine law.” See, e.g., comments in Becker, Adam H., “The Dynamic Reception of Theodore of Mopsuestia in the Sixth Century: Greek, Syriac, and Latin,” in Greek Literature in Late Antiquity: Dynamism, Didacticism, Classicism, ed. Johnson, Scott Fitzgerald (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006), 41Google Scholar. Some knowledge of Jewish practice appears in certain sources. See, e.g., the reference to Jews’ emphasis on Levirate marriage in Mar Aba's encyclical, Chabot, J.-B., Synodicon Orientale ou recueil des Synodes Nestoriens publié, traduit et annoté, Notices et extraits de la Bibliothèque Nationale, Tome 37 (Paris: Imprimerie Nationale 1902)Google Scholar, 83.2.

65. Elman, Yaakov, “Orality and the Babylonian Talmud,” Oral Tradition 14, no. 1 (1999): 53Google Scholar. For the development of the ideology of orality, standard reading is now Jaffee, Martin S., Torah in the Mouth: Writing and Oral Tradition in Palestinian Judaism 200 BCE–400 CE (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

66. Most recently on the “self,” see, e.g., Brakke, David, Satlow, Michael L., and Weitzman, Steven, eds. Religion and the Self in Antiquity (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005)Google Scholar; with regard to the issues addressed here, see especially Edward Watts, “The Student Self in Late Antiquity,” 234–52.

67. Becker, Fear of God, 22–40.

68. Cabezón, José Ignacio, ed., Scholasticism: Cross-Cultural and Comparative Perspectives (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998)Google Scholar, 4–6: These are, in full: (1) “a strong sense of tradition” and a polemical defense of it; (2) “a concern with language” and a belief in its “communicative ability” as well as in the utility of “conceptual thought and categories”; (3) “proliferativity,” a “textual and analytical inclusivity” “that leave[s] no questions unanswered”; (4) the sense that the tradition is complete and that each of its parts is necessary; (5) “the epistemological accessibility of the world”; (6) “systematicity,” the order of the world is reproduced in the “order of exposition”; (7) rationalism as “integral to the religious path,” reason and experience are reconciled; and (8) “self-reflexivity: the tendency to objectify and to critically analyze first-order practices,” (e.g., hermeneutics in exegesis).

69. Michael D. Swartz, “Scholasticism as a Comparative Category and the Study of Judaism,” in Scholasticism, 91–114.

70. Becker, Fear of God, 12–17.

71. Jaffee, Martin S., “A Rabbinic Ontology of the Written and Spoken Word: On Discipleship, Transformative Knowledge, and the Living Texts of Oral Torah,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 65, no. 3 (1997): 531CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For more on the relationship between orality and such discipleship communities, see Jaffee, Torah in the Mouth, 126–52.

72. On the early church, see Rousseau, Philip, The Early Christian Centuries (London: Longman Pearson, 2002), 124–52Google Scholar.

73. Neusner, History of the Jews in Babylonia, 3:195–200.

74. Ibid., 4:283.

75. Vööbus, Arthur, History of Asceticism in the Syrian Orient, 2 vols. (Louvain: Secrétariat du Corpus SCO, 1958–60)Google Scholar; and idem, History of the School of Nisibis.

76. See the discussion of the modern historiographical problems surrounding the so-called School of the Persians in Becker, Fear of God, 41–43.

77. In a brief piece published after his exchange with Goodblatt, Gafni provides a comparison between the School of Nisibis and the rabbinic academies. The purpose of this article is, in part, to use the high level of institutionalization of the school as a comparandum to confirm the possibility of the development of academies in the amoraic period. The parallels and similarities he notes are significant, and some of them deserve further study. Gafni addresses the possible contact points between the Jewish and the Christian communities, but he is careful to qualify his argument: the similarities may just be structural and do not necessarily point to actual contacts between the two communities (Gafni, “Ḥibburim nestoryani'im k-maqor l-toledot yeshivot bavel”).

78. Rubenstein, The Culture of the Babylonian Talmud, 35.

79. Ibid., 37.

80. “The Church of the East (and other Syriac-speaking Christians) provide then a pendant on which to hang—by analogy—the plausibility of claims for Hellenism in Jewish Babylonia as much, or more, than a vehicle for transmission. The extent to which the post-amoraic rabbinic community in Babylonia seems to have been open to the scholasticism of the Nisibene foundation renders the notion of a hermetically sealed, exclusively inner-directed community less and less convincing” (Daniel Boyarin, “Hellenism in Jewish Babylonia,” in The Cambridge Companion to the Talmud and Rabbinic Literature, 350). However, this seems to be an intellectualist notion of Hellenism, in contrast to what we find, e.g., in Bowersock, Glen W., Hellenism in Late Antiquity (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1990)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

81. Ibid., 349.

82. Ibid., 347.

83. Ibid., 349.

84. Cf. Becker, Fear of God, 16–17. Unfortunately, I did not have time to incorporate into this article Boyarin's new book, Socrates and the Fat Rabbis (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009), which suggests that the rabbis had access, even if through oral transmission, to Greek authors such as Plato and Lucian via the Christian community. This is highly implausible.

85. See, e.g., Becker, Fear of God, 204–209 (“Conclusion: Study as Ritual in the Church of the East”).

86. Kraemer, David C., The Mind of the Talmud: An Intellectual History of the Bavli (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990)Google Scholar; Becker, Fear of God, 16–17, 194–97; and Boyarin, “Hellenism in Jewish Babylonia,” 346–47.

87. Rubenstein, The Culture of the Babylonian Talmud, 54–79. See the description in the Cause of the Foundation of the Schools of the rewards and punishments of good and bad Angels, Barḥadbešabba ‘Arbaya, Cause de la fondation des écoles, 350.6–352.4; cf. Becker, Fear of God, 99.

88. Boyarin, Daniel, Carnal Israel: Reading Sex in Talmudic Culture (Berkeley: University of California, 1993), 134–66Google Scholar; Rubenstein, The Culture of the Babylonian Talmud, 102–122; and Satlow, Michael L., “‘And on the Earth You Shall Sleep’: Talmud Torah and Rabbinic Asceticism,” Journal of Religion 83 (2003): 204225CrossRefGoogle Scholar, although he focuses on the Palestinian context.

89. Becker, Adam H., “Bringing the Heavenly Academy Down to Earth: Approaches to the Imagery of Divine Pedagogy in the East-Syrian Tradition,” in Heavenly Realms and Earthly Realities in Late Antique Religions, ed. Boustan, Ra‘anan and Reed, Annette Yoshiko (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 174–91CrossRefGoogle Scholar, esp. 185–90.

90. Kalmin, Richard, Jewish Babylonia between Persia and Roman Palestine (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 1936CrossRefGoogle Scholar. On the Cause, see Becker, Fear of God, 98–112.

91. Some magical motifs seem to have moved from Palestine to Babylonia. See Naveh, J. and Shaked, S., Magic Spells and Formulae: Aramaic Incantations of Late Antiquity (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1993), 2122Google Scholar.

92. Both the East Syrian schools and the rabbinic academies of the geonic period reinvented their institutional pasts (see Becker, Fear of God, 57–61; and Goodblatt, “The History of the Babylonian Academies,” 823–24). For example, the Yavneh tradition may be compared to the attempt we find in the sources from the School of Nisibis to negotiate the historical tradition around the School of the Persians at Edessa. See, e.g., Boyarin, “Hellenism in Jewish Babylonia,” 341–42.

93. On the reception of the School of Nisibis in the West, see Becker, “The Dynamic Reception of Theodore of Mopsuestia in the Sixth Century,” 29–47.

94. Bedjan, Histoire de Mar-Jabalaha et trois autres Patriarches, 210–23. On this pedagogical understanding of Christianity, see Becker, Fear of God, 22–40; and Becker, “Bringing the Heavenly Academy,” 179–82. Earlier, see also Macina, “L'homme à l'école de Dieu.” On Mar Aba's place within the church, see, most recently, Hutter, Manfred, “Mār Abā and the Impact of Zoroastrianism on Christianity in the 6th Century,” in Religious Themes and Texts of Pre-Islamic Iran and Central Asia, ed. Cereti, Carlo G., Maggi, Mauro, and Provasi, Elio (Wiesbaden: Reichert Verlag, 2003), 167–73Google Scholar.

95. For another reading of this passage, see Boyarin, Daniel, Dying for God: Martyrdom and the Making of Christianity and Judaism (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 199), 2223Google Scholar.

96. Becker, “Bringing the Heavenly Academy,” 190.

97. Becker, Fear of God, 77–81; Cynthia J. Villagomez, “The Fields, Flocks, and Finances of Monks: Economic Life at Nestorian Monasteries, 500–800” (PhD diss., University of California, Los Angeles, 1998).

98. Schäfer, Peter, Jesus in the Talmud (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007)Google Scholar. For the Babylonian insertion of Jesus into an account that has several prior versions, both Christian and Jewish, see Gero, Stephen, “The Stern Master and His Wayward Disciple: A ‘Jesus’ Story in the Talmud and in Christian Hagiography,” Journal for the Study of Judaism in the Persian, Hellenistic and Roman Period 25 (1994): 287311CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

99. See, e.g., Barḥadbešabba ‘Arbaya, Cause de la fondation des écoles, 367.11.

100. Yuval, Two Nations in Your Womb, 135–204.

101. Morony, Michael G., “Magic and Society in Late Sasanian Iraq,” in Prayer, Magic, and the Stars in the Ancient and Late Antique World, ed. Noegel, Scott B., Walker, Joel Thomas, and Wheeler, Brannon M. (University Park: Penn State University Press, 2003), 100Google Scholar.

102. The popularity of “Jewish” magic continued in the Islamic period; cf. Wasserstrom, Between Muslim and Jew, 187–205.

103. Joshua bar Peraḥya appears in a number of bowls in Babylonian Jewish Aramaic, but he also appears in a Syriac bowl; see Segal, J. B., Aramaic and Mandaic Incantation Bowls in the British Museum (London: British Museum Press, 2000), 149Google Scholar. For Jesus in Jewish bowls, see Levene, Dan, A Corpus of Magic Bowls: Incantation Texts in Jewish Aramaic from Late Antiquity (London: Kegan Paul, 2003), 137Google Scholar (note the East Syrian spelling of the name Jesus in this Jewish text). See also Levene, , “‘ … And by the Name of Jesus…’ an Unpublished Magic Bowl in Jewish Aramaic,” Jewish Studies Quarterly 6, no. 4 (1999): 283308Google Scholar; and Shaked, Shaul, “Jesus in the Magic Bowls: Apropos Dan Levene's ‘ … And by the Name of Jesus … ’,” Jewish Studies Quarterly 6, no. 4 (1999): 308–19Google Scholar. However, the bowls share demons more than beneficial beings (Morony, “Magic and Society in Late Sasanian Iraq,” 95). See also Juusola, Hannu, “Who Wrote the Syriac Incantation Bowls?Studia Orientalia 85 (1999): 7592Google Scholar.

104. Shaked, Shaul, “Popular Religion in Sassanian Babylonian,” Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 21 (1997): 106Google Scholar. See also Shaked, , Dualism in Transformation: Varieties of Religion in Sasanian Iran (London: School of Oriental and African Studies, 1994)Google Scholar, 80ff.

105. Kaizer, Ted, The Religious Life of Palmyra (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 2002), 8999Google Scholar; Drijvers, H. J. W., Cults and Beliefs at Edessa (Leiden: Brill, 1980), 4075CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See comments in Becker, Fear of God, 30–31.

106. Again, see Kaizer, Religious Life, 40–75. Also, see the evidence for Nabu in Hillers, Delbert R. and Cussini, Eleonora, Palmyrene Aramaic Texts (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996)Google Scholar.

107. Tafazzoli, Ahmad, Sasanian Society (New York: Bibliotheca Persica Press, 2000), 1837Google Scholar.

108. For bills of divorce, see, e.g., Levene, Corpus of Magic Bowls, 18–21. For the invocation of scriptural verses, ibid., 13 (though often these are verses employed in liturgy). For the use of Mishnah, see Schøyen Collection 1929/6 and 2053/170, discussed in Shaked, Shaul, “Form and Purpose in Aramaic Spells: Some Jewish Themes [The Poetics of Magic Texts],” in Officina Magica: Essays on the Practice of Magic in Antiquity, ed. Shaked, Shaul (Leiden: Brill, 2005), 36Google Scholar. See the fake bowls in Segal, Aramaic and Mandaic Incantation Bowls, plates 138–59.

109. Swartz, Michael D., “Scholasticism and the Study of Judaism,” 104. See his book, Scholastic Magic: Ritual and Revelation in Early Jewish Mysticism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996)Google Scholar.

110. Brock, Sebastian P., “Jewish Traditions in Syriac Sources,” Journal of Jewish Studies 30 (1979): 231CrossRefGoogle Scholar, repr., Studies in Syriac Christianity (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1992), chap. 4.

111. See, e.g., several essays in Iricinschi, Eduard and Zellentin, Holger, eds., Heresy and Identity in Late Antiquity (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008)Google Scholar.

112. Holger M. Zellentin, Rabbinic Parodies: Imitation and Subversion in Talmud and Midrash (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010), chap 3; and Schäfer, Jesus in the Talmud.

113. Kalmin, Jewish Babylonia between Persia and Roman Palestine, 19.

114. Ibid., 10.

115. See, e.g., Ibid., 104.

116. Again, see the essays in José Ignacio Cabezón, Scholasticism. Formal comparative analysis, though it may seem passé these days, may shed light on this material. For an example of a book working in this traditional history of religions mode, see Buck, Christopher, Paradise and Paradigm: Key Symbols in Persian Christianity and the Bahā’ī Faith (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999)Google Scholar.

117. See comments on the “rhetoric of insularity” among the religious communities of the Sasanian Empire in de Jong, Albert F., “Zoroastrian Religious Polemics and Their Contexts: Interconfessional Relations in the Sasanian Empire,” in Religious Polemics in Context, ed. Hettema, T. L. and Van der Kooij, A. (Assen: Van Gorcum, 2004), 5859Google Scholar.

118. Taylor, Charles, A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2007)Google Scholar.

119. For an examination of this issue as it appears in East Syrian sources from the Sasanian Empire, see Becker, Adam H., “Martyrdom, Religious Difference, and ‘Fear’ as a Category of Piety in the Sasanian Empire: The Case of the Martyrdoms of Gregory and of Yazdpaneh,” Journal of Late Antiquity 2, no. 2 (Fall 2009): 300336CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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