Judaism and Story: The Evidence of the Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan
Wipf & Stock, 2003 - 241 pages
In this close analysis of 'The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan', a sixth-century commentary on the Mishnah-tractyate 'The Fathers' (Avot), Jacob Neusner considers the way in which the story, as a distinctive type of narrative, entered the canonical writings of Judaism. The final installment in Neusner's cycle of analyses of the major texts of the Judaic canon, 'Judaism and Story' shows that stories about sages exist in far greater proportion in 'The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan' than in any of the other principal writings in the canon of Judaism of late antiquity. Neusner's detailed comparison of 'The Fathers' and 'The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan' demonstrates the transmission and elaboration of these stories and shows how these processes incorporated the newer view of the sage as a supernatural figure and of the eschatological character of Judaic teleology. These distinctions, as Neusner describes them, mark a shift in Jewish orientation to world history. 'Judaism and Story' documents a chapter of rabbinic tradition that explored the possibility of historical orientation by means of stories. As Neusner demonstrates, this experiment with narrative went beyond argumentation focused on the explication of the Torah. The sage story moved in the direction of biography, but without allowing biography to emerge. This development, in Neusner's account, parallels the movement from epistle to Gospel in early Christianity and thus has broad implications for the history of religions.
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