Friday, November 26, 2004

THE NEUSNER PHENOMENON is explored by David Klinghoffer in what appears to be a review of Neusner's latest introduction to the Mishnah in the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles (even though very little space is give to reviewing the book). Excerpt:
Perhaps the only other Judaic scholar with a semifamiliar name outside academia, NYU�s Lawrence Schiffman, explains that this partly stems from the fact that Neusner seriously shook up the field early on, defining the major questions that other professors would have to deal with for the rest of their careers.

�I had to invent what the field would look like,� Neusner says.

Schiffman doesn�t deny the credit-taking. In American university religion departments before Neusner, Schiffman says, �The missing element was Talmud, the real core of Judaism. You went right from the Bible to the Middle Ages.�

Neusner upset Israeli academics, among others, by arguing that the teachings given in the name of individual rabbis in the Talmud couldn�t, as a rule, be attributed to those individual rabbis. Schiffman, best known for his work on the Dead Sea Scrolls, also speculates that �there are some who disdain him because he�s not a philologist,� an expert on the technical aspects of the definition and history of words.

Maybe so, although hating Neusner because he�s not a philologist calls to mind Lenny Bruce�s explanation of why the Jews killed Jesus: �We killed him because he didn�t want to become a doctor.�

Ever-subtle Klinghoffer.

UPDATE: Carl Kinbar e-mails:
I was wonderfully seduced into the study of early Judaism by Neusner and his infectious love for that literature. Now I am writing my dissertation on redactional characteristics of the Tosefta.

Though I recognize Neusner's flaws as a scholar (including his weakness in philology), his contributions have been immense. Klinghoffer's article not only fails to review the book, it also fails to convey Neusner's achievements.

Making God's Word Work: A Guide to the Mishnah is a reprise of Neusner's work in The Philosophical Mishnah. The "official" description on the Continuum website is a serviceable booknote.

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