Friday, November 19, 2021

Review of new English translation of Strack-Billerbeck

THE READING ACTS BLOG: A New English Translation of Strack and Billerbeck, Commentary on the Talmud, ed. Jacob N. Cerone, trans. Joseph Longarino. Cross-file under New Book.

Phil Long gives a balanced review of this new English translation of Strack-Billerbeck.

Conclusion: Is this new English translation of Strack and Billerbeck worth the investment? This is not a reference work for the casual reader, it is a major tool intended for the serious Bible student and scholar. For many, an English translation of Strack and Billerbeck opens up a new world of Rabbinic literature for the first time. But with great power comes great responsibility. Using Strack and Billerbeck can enhance one’s understanding of the Jewish background to Jesus, Paul, and the rest of the New Testament. But it is a tool which may lead to unintentional consequences and misreading the Rabbinic literature.
Indeed. My own view is that people who are not specialists in rabbinic literature (including nearly all New Testament scholars and also me) should stay away from Strack-Billerbeck. It collects a great deal of potentially useful information, but to use it responsibly you have to be able to filter that information to decide credibly what is an early tradition and what isn't.

Crucially, the attribution of a saying to a named rabbi doesn't date the saying. Late traditions were sometimes, perhaps often, attributed to earlier tradents. The saying has to be dated on other grounds, if that is possible at all.

I try not to use rabbinic material in my work on Second Temple Judaism. If I have to, I try to limit my use to material isolated as first-century in Neusner's stratigraphic analysis.

Sometimes a late or undateable rabbinic text has interesting parallels with an earlier text. Such cases are worth noting and discussing, but only when making clear that the rabbinic text has not in itself been demonstrated to be early.

A related post from many years ago is here. I haven't published those notes, but I have continued to refine them and use them in my classes.

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