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Stories in the Babylonian Talmud
Towards a Comprehensive Mapping and Analysis

The stories woven into the Babylonian Talmud (BT) have aroused much interest among scholars for many years. They have often been described as masterpieces, as a gleaming attachment of motifs and structures, whose weaving into the continuous textual fabric of the Talmud repeatedly reveals itself in a new light; with concentrated and condensed miniature pieces of texts emphasizing dialectical complexity, multi-facetedness and even a developed self-awareness. Textually, they are considered to be a test case for fundamental questions of the BT editing, while historically, as a valuable window into the cultural world of the Babylonian Jews in the Talmudic period. Yet, despite all this, the number of BT stories that have received detailed literary analysis is quite small compared to the number of BT stories that exist. An understandable process in itself led to the canonization of a relatively small group of certain stories to which the study repeatedly returns, limiting the capacity to consider BT stories as a whole.

This research, generously supported by the Israeli Science Foundation (grant no. 2023/21), seeks to analyze thoroughly the corpus of BT stories as a whole, as a system. To that end, it offers, for the first time, (1) a feasible outline for creating a comprehensive database of BT stories; and (2) an analysis of the entire system of the stories in the BT through their classification in the database. A study like this does not replace the in-depth focus on the individual story or small group of stories, but rather complements it, sometimes perhaps challenging it, and in any case giving it additional meaning: It points out salient trends, incidental phenomena and significant patterns, as well as notable anomalies, singular phenomena, and materials that do not lend themselves easily to any attempt at inclusion. It serves as the basis for more general analyses concerning the relations between genres and sub-genres, relations between language and literary form, and the mapping of the branching network of connections that exist between many of the Babylonian stories. 

Although computing facilitates this project, it is not its main focus: Here, the main function of the computer is to organize human knowledge, so as to enable the creation of new queries that map the material at a glance from a broader perspective. The project is not an application of heavy algorithmic manipulations, but is, instead, a humanistic attempt to systematically observe a large corpus, based on a consistent computer-assisted examination of defined literary characteristics – an act of observing that will significantly advance the study of BT stories.


Dr. Itay Marienberg-Milikowsky (PI)

Dr. Avraham Yoskovich; Dr. Yedidah Koren; Dr. Eliyahu Rosenfeld; Dr. Chanan Argov

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