Holtz has written what he calls an “imagined biography” about the much-admired rabbinic figure born around 50 CE. “Rabbi Akiva: Sage of the Talmud” is a compelling new volume in Yale University Press’ “Jewish Lives” series. While Akiva’s name is mentioned 1,341 times in the Babylonian Talmud, he is a “man without a past.” What exists are stories — literary anecdotes about his life, parallel retellings that are not identical, lessons inferred from his actions, drawn from the Mishnah, Tosefta, the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds and midrashim — all “internal” sources of Judaism. Understanding that these stories can’t be read as factual accounts, Holtz parses them, often in various versions, to tease out the culture, values and religious teachings embedded within. Amidst the challenges, he manages to capture Akiva’s distinctive voice.For past PaleoJudaica posts on the book, see here and links.
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