Yesterday I posted a few notes about the Mishnah and Talmud, explaining a little of their pre-history and background for beginners (I’m pretty much a beginner myself, since my learning to this point has been mostly just topics from Talmud and a little of the Hebrew of the Mishnah).
Anyway, here is a little further information about the pre-history of the Talmud . . .
The post from yesterday represented the traditional interpretation of the origin of the Talmud. The most traditional interpretation is that Moses was given the entire Oral Law (the rulings about how to keep the commandments of the Torah) on Mt. Sinai. It would take a major commitment of faith in Orthodox Jewish tradition to believe that, especially since many of the rulings can be seen as coming from a later period.
Yet another traditional concept that deserves questioning is the idea that Mishnah and Talmud accurately record memorized dialogues between the sages, passed down by their students. I’m told by a mentor whose knowledge I value that oral tradition doesn’t work nearly that well. I’m also told that conversations recorded in the Babylonian Talmud, Jerusalem Talmud, and other places like the Tosefta, often show major variations, even contradictions.
I’ve not yet been able to read some of the scholars and articles that discuss a more critical view of the Talmud’s formation. In time, I will become familiar with these other ways of looking at the evidence.
In the meantime, I will post a few short articles in days ahead about more objective matters of Talmud. What subject matters are in the Talmud?: What is it like? How does it work? These will be basic observations as I am no Talmud scholar, but I hope they will be helpful for those of you who wish to learn more about Jewish tradition.