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Learning from the Magi: Zoroastrianism and the New Movement in Talmud Study


May 15, 2015
12:15 pm - 1:30 pm


Bldg. 360, CCSRE Conference Room

Colloquium with Shai Secunda (Hebrew University, Jerusalem). For Religious Studies and Jewish Studies faculty, graduate students, and Stanford-affiliated guests. Lunch served; to receive a copy of the reading, RSVP from your stanford.edu address to Ai Tran.

For many decades scholars of  the Babylonian Talmud – Judaism’s most central work – saw the Talmud as an essentially peerless specimen of late antique religious literature. Little attempt was made to relate or integrate critical Talmud scholarship with the study of other religious texts produced in the same general time and space, namely the Western Sasanian Empire. Recently, the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction so that Talmudists are now being trained in the languages spoken by non-Jewish Sasanian communities (mainly Middle Persian and Syriac). Great effort has been put forward to consider Zoroastrian texts in particular, given some of that literature’s similar mode of textuality (oral), form (discursive hermeneutics), and interests (religious law). The new Irano-Talmudica, as the new research endeavor has come to be known, has had a tremendous effect on Rabbincs, yet it also has had an effect on the history of religions in general, and the significance of Zoroastrian studies in particular. This paper looks closely at this research trend, examines where the field has been, and considers the way ahead.

Dr. Shai Secunda is a Lecturer in Comparative Religion at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he serves as a Martin Buber Society Fellow and researches classical Judaism and Jewish texts and classical Zoroastrianism and Zoroastrian texts. His recent book, The Iranian Talmud: Reading the Bavli in its Sasanian Context was published in 2014 by University of Pennsylvania Press. He is a founding editor of The Talmud Blog, a forum for discussing the many different lives of rabbinic texts.