In fact, one way of looking at Dr. Elman’s prodigious scholarship is as an exercise in exploring the atypical. Take for example the work for which he is best known: his pioneering studies in Irano-Talmudica, a field – which he completely revitalized – that seeks to situate the Talmud Bavli in its broader historical and intellectual context within the Sasanian Persian empire in pre-Islamic Iran. In several essays Dr. Elman noted some of the Bavli’s idiosyncratic features that distinguish it from earlier rabbinic literature. These include its theology of suffering, its beliefs about demons, its preoccupation with the way in which oral teachings are transmitted, and more.Background here and links
What made the Bavli so different? For Dr. Elman the answer lay in the Bavli’s atypical context. Of the major rabbinical works of late antiquity it was the only one to develop in the Sasanian Empire, in which Zoroastrianism was the dominant religion. Over the course of about a decade and half Dr. Elman would argue for this as a signal factor in the Bavli’s unusual nature.
But there was so much more to Dr. Elman’s oeuvre than a mere fascination with the uncharacteristic. His scholarship had a purpose.
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