Jacob Neusner (1932–2016)

Jewish scholar Jacob Neusner died yesterday. His writings gave many of us a better understanding of Judaism.

According to The New York Times and The Times of Israel, Jacob Neusner died yesterday. He was a Jewish scholar who “transformed the study of American Judaism, becoming one of the most influential 20th-century scholars of the religion.”

Christian scholars who are interested in those elements of faith we share with Judaism will be aware of his writings. His translation of the Mishnah and Talmud has helped make these works accessible to English readers.

The Mishnah represents the conversations about the Scriptures among Jewish rabbis. These conversations written down around AD 200. The structure is a bit like a blog, with various rabbis chipping in to contribute their thoughts to the thread.

As the rabbinical conversations continued to grow, it was clear that the further contributions needed to be written down too, so the Talmud is the extended rabbinical conversation recorded around AD 600. There are actually two Talmuds: the Babylonian Talmud, and the Yerushalmi (Jerusalem) Talmud. The Babylonian is the primary (default) one. The Talmud is important as the foundational interpretation of traditional Judaism.

Neusner’s translation of The Mishnah was published by Yale University Press in 1988. His Babylonian Talmud and Jerusalem Talmud were published by Hendrickson in 2005 and 2008 respectively.

Neusner was a prolific writer, publishing numerous books (examples) and contributing to a number of academic journals, including the Bulletin for Biblical Research and Journal of Biblical Literature. He certainly helped to make an understanding of Judaism more accessible to Christians. That’s quite a legacy.


Author: Allen Browne

Seeking to understand Jesus in the terms he chose to describe himself: son of man (his identity), and kingdom of God (his mission). Riverview Church, Perth, Western Australia

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