The Talmud c. 180

The Talmud c. 180

The Talmud Hour (c. 1900) by German painter J. Scheich
The Talmud Hour (c. 1900) by German painter J. Scheich

The Torah, which consists of the first five books of the Hebrew Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, is the cornerstone of Jewish law. Jews meditated on and discussed the Torah and its lessons until the sixth century BCE, creating and preserving an oral legacy that supplemented the written word. Then came a protracted period of Jewish subjugation and exile, which began with the Babylonians and ended with the Romans. As the survival of an oral tradition became more precarious, sages and academics began to record it, eventually resulting in the Talmud.

The Mishnah is a collection of documented oral traditions that was started around 70 CE and continued until around 200 CE. For centuries, the Mishnah was studied, interpreted, and taught, with much of it being written down. This explication and commentary on the Mishnah became the Talmud, or Gemara, in the fifth century of our era. Over time, two Talmud versions emerged: the Jerusalem Talmud and the Babylonian Talmud, which came one or two centuries later. The latter is thought to be less obscure, more thorough, and so more authoritative.

The Talmud, according to Talmudic scholar Adin Steinsaltz, is a mixture of law, legend, and philosophy, a blend of unique logic and smart pragmatism, of history and science, tales, and humor. It’s a collection of contradictions: its framework is orderly and logical, every word and term meticulously edited centuries after the actual work of composition ended; yet it’s still based on free association, on a harnessing together of disparate ideas akin to the modern stream-of-consciousness novel.

When it comes to the origins and history of law, historian Robert Shaffern points out that “the law of the Hebrews/Israelites has passed into the religiocultural inheritance of today’s Jews and Christians,” and that “even many secularized peoples of the modern world can trace their basic legal principles to ancient Israel.” “May well be the most important and influential collection of legal texts in world history,” he says of those laws.

SEE ALSO:

The Ten Commandments (c. 1300 BCE);

The Quran 652 – The sacred scripture of Islam.

Sources:

The Talmud

The Law Book: From Hammurabi to the International Criminal Court, 250 Milestones in the History of Law (Sterling Milestones) Hardcover – Illustrated, 22 Oct. 2015, English edition by Michael H. Roffer (Autor)

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