Biblical Archaeology Review 11:3, May/June 1985

Queries & Comments

In Defense Of Jacob Neusner

To the Editor:

Your report of Morton Smith’s takeover of the SBL meeting honoring Jacob Neusner’s significant contribution to scholarship missed the mark in several ways. Instead of informing readers of papers delivered by Neusner, A. T. Kraabel, Anthony Saldarini and W. D. Davies, you restated the criticism directed at Neusner by Smith, Saul Lieberman, Hyam Maccoby and Shave Cohen, and failed to ask the obvious questions: What motivated Smith to engage in singularly unscholarly and unprofessional behavior?

When senior scholars of Smith’s generation engage in tactics of the sixties, something more must be at stake than scholarly disagreement.

Smith cited the late Saul Lieberman’s last work—published posthumously in the JAOS—a violent polemical review of Neusner’s Yerushalmia translation. Lieberman could not even bring himself to refer to Neusner by name and suggested that the translation (of a sacred text) best belongs in a trash can. Cohen’s piece, which first attempts a serious critique of Neusner, swiftly falls into an ad hominem attack unbefitting either the scholar or the journal, and Maccoby virtually accuses Neusner of seeking credit with Gentile scholars by defaming Pharisaic Judaism.

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