Book Review: Caleb T. Friedeman, ed. A Scripture Index to Rabbinic Literature

Friedeman. Caleb T., ed. A Scripture Index to Rabbinic Literature. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Academic, 2021. xvi+549 pp.; Hb.  $59.95  Link to Hendrickson Academic

A Scripture Index to Rabbinic Literature (ASIRL, pronounced AY-sirl) is the first comprehensive Scripture index to classical rabbinic literature in English. The goals of this volume are quite different than the venerable (and oft-reprinted) work by John Lightfoot or Strack and Billerbeck, Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Midrash (German, 1926). Those volumes indexed the passages in the Mishnah and Talmud to New Testament passages. ASIRL indexes quotations and allusions to the Hebrew Bible in a wide range of classical rabbinic literature, providing a convenient list to study the developing interpretation of Scripture in classical rabbinic literature.

A Scripture Index to Rabbinic LiteratureBy classic rabbinic literature, the editors mean works produced in the second through seventh centuries CE (3). The volume is also limited to works available in English, untranslated Hebrew or German texts are not indexed. The literature indexed includes the Mishnah, Tosefta, Jerusalem Talmud, Babylonian Talmud and the minor Talmudic Tractates, and seventeen midrashic works. The introduction surveys these twenty-two categories, indicating the translation used for the volume and a brief introduction to the contents and abbreviation schemes. This is a valuable introduction to many of the lesser-known works included in the index. The introduction also includes a brief bibliography for each work included.

According to the introduction to the book, ASIRL contains “approximately 90,000 rabbinic entries and represents over 2,500 hours of work by a seven-person team over the course of two and a half years.” ASRIL has five goals. First, the volume brings all Scripture references in classical rabbinic literature together in a single volume so that users can look at one or two pages and know every place in this literature where a given biblical passage is referenced. Second, the book creates Scripture indexes for rabbinic works that do not yet have them. Third, the book provides for each reference a hard citation that is transferable to other editions, and also to provide the corresponding page number in a standard English translation. Fourth, the editors decide whether each reference is a direct citation, allusion, or editorial reference. Fifth, the volume corrects any errors in the existing indexes for this literature.

As test case I selected Exodus 12:9. Referring to the Passover Lamb, the text says “Do not eat the meat raw or boiled in water, but roast it over a fire—with the head, legs and internal organs.” The index points the way to how this verse was interpreted by classic rabbinic literature. The ASIRL for Exodus 12:9 has thirty entries arranged in chronological order beginning with the Mishnah. Each entry includes pages numbers in the work cited in the edition listed in the introduction. For the Mishnah, they give page numbers both D for Danbey (D) and Neusner (N). This made it quite easy to locate references in my copy of Neusner’s translation of the Mishnah.. The index also pointed me to Lauterbach’s Mekilta de-Rabbi Ishmael: “R. Akiba says: From this I know only that it is forbidden to boil it in water. How about boiling it in other liquids? The scriptural expression: “nor sodden at all,” includes all other liquids in the prohibition.” In b. Hul. 115A the rabbis connected Exodus 12:9 to the prohibition of eating meat boiled in milk as well as prohibitions against eating meat with blood. Mekhilta de-Rabbi Shimon Bar Yoha adds “if one eats it insufficiently cooked, he gets the 40 lashes!”

This raises on potential problem for using the full potential of ASIRL. Users need access to a formidable research library in order to make use of the index. I happen to have both the Neusner’s Mishnah and Babylonian Talmud in Logos as well as a few of the other works listed, but few users will have immediate access to anything other than the Mishnah and Talmud. The majority of entries are from those two sources, but some may be frustrated trying to find a copy of Sifre Zuta Numbers, for example. Although it would be a great deal of work, I would really like to see this book converted to a Logos tagged resource so users could click a link and go immediately to the cited section.

Since this is an index of Scripture in the rabbinic literature, it is not surprising the bulk of the 549 pages of the book cover the Hebrew Bible (and about 250 pages are on the five books of the Torah). The Apocrypha appears on slightly more than one page, the New Testament in barely four pages. The editors are clear: they do not want to imply any listed classic rabbinic text actually directly interacts with the New Testament. All the New Testament examples are editorial references rather than citations or allusions. Once again, this is not a new version of Strack and Billerbeck. In fact, these two sections could have been omitted without effecting the goals of ASRIL.

NB: Thanks to Hendrickson Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.


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