From Sermon to Commentary: Expounding the Bible in Talmudic Babylonia

Overview

The Bible has always been vital to Jewish religious life, and it has been expounded in diverse ways. Perhaps the most influential body of Jewish biblical interpretation is the Midrash that was produced by expositors during the first five centuries CE. Many such teachings are collected in the Babylonian Talmud, the monumental compendium of Jewish law and lore that was accepted as the definitive statement of Jewish oral tradition for subsequent generations.

However, many of the ...

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Overview

The Bible has always been vital to Jewish religious life, and it has been expounded in diverse ways. Perhaps the most influential body of Jewish biblical interpretation is the Midrash that was produced by expositors during the first five centuries CE. Many such teachings are collected in the Babylonian Talmud, the monumental compendium of Jewish law and lore that was accepted as the definitive statement of Jewish oral tradition for subsequent generations.

However, many of the Talmud’s interpretations of biblical passages appear bizarre or pointless. From Sermon to Commentary: Expounding the Bible in Talmudic Babylonia tries to explain this phenomenon by carefully examining representative passages from a variety of methodological approaches, paying particular attention to comparisons with Midrash composed in the Land of Israel.

Based on this investigation, Eliezer Segal argues that the Babylonian sages were utilizing discourses that had originated in Israel as rhetorical sermons in which biblical interpretation was being employed in an imaginative, literary manner, usually based on the interplay between two or more texts from different books of the Bible. Because they did not possess their own tradition of homiletic preaching, the Babylonian rabbis interpreted these comments without regard for their rhetorical conventions, as if they were exegetical commentaries, resulting in the distinctive, puzzling character of Babylonian Midrash.

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Meet the Author

Eliezer Segal is a professor of religious studies at the University of Calgary. A native of Montreal, he holds a PhD in rabbinics from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His primary areas of research include Talmudic literature, Jewish law and homiletics, and comparative biblical interpretation. His publications include scholarly monographs, popular scholarship, a children’s book, and many articles and book chapters.

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Table of Contents

Introduction : Aggadic Midrash in Babylonia 1
1 A chamber on the wall 9
2 A holy man of God 17
3 Two faces 21
4 Daughters of Zion 29
5 Cave of Machpelah 33
6 Amraphel and Nimrod 37
7 A new king 41
8 The fish 51
9 Sevenfold 55
10 "From India even unto Ethiopia" 63
11 Ahasuerus, a clever king or a stupid king? 67
12 "The court of the garden ..." 69
13 Treasure cities 71
14 Pithom and Raamses 73
15 Shiphrah and Puah 75
16 Coats of skins 79
17 To do his business 81
18 Orpah and Harafah 85
19 Shobach and Shophach 89
20 Elishah and the children 91
21 Staff or goblet 93
22 King and commoner 95
23 Ezekiel's cry 97
24 Mahlon and Chilion 101
25 His eldest son 105
26 Achan and Zimri 109
27 Ham and Noah 113
28 Sennacherib, clever or stupid? 117
29 Copper precious as gold 121
30 Non-Babylonian examples 125
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