Cricket Without a Ball
Introduction to Rabbinic LiteratureJacob Neusner (New York: Anchor Bible Reference Library, Doubleday, 1994) 720 pp., $40.00
“While I have enjoyed the work required for every one of the five hundred books I have published…accomplishing this work of summary…has given me the greatest satisfaction…it marks a definitive closure; I have accomplished my goals.”
An introduction to rabbinic literature? Or a summary of Jacob Neusner’s oeuvre? This volume does provide a description, with sample passages, of all the “classics” of rabbinic literature—or to be more precise, of early rabbinic literature, that is, from the third to the seventh century C.E.—the Mishnah, Tosefta, Talmud of the Land of Israel, Talmud of Babylonia and the early Midrashim. And yet, this description focuses almost entirely on their logical patterns and rhetorical forms, that is, only on Neusner’s own research.
This is unfortunate, because many of the most fascinating aspects of rabbinic literature, such as text, language, historical background, literary formation, medieval commentary and transmission, are largely, if not entirely, ignored. Contents, above all, are given a secondary, subordinate position in this volume. Neusner’s form analysis can be so abstract and detached from substantial textual evidence that it is often difficult to follow: It is like playing cricket without a ball.