UCL Institute of Jewish Studies


Of Bits and Pieces, Ancient Data Management, and the Making of the Talmud

01 March 2023, 6:00 pm–7:00 pm

Of Bits and Pieces, Ancient Data Management, and the Making of the Talmud

A talk about the (possible) composition of the Babylonian Talmud

Event Information

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Sara Ben-Isaac

The formation of the Babylonian Talmud has often been constructed as completely different from every other ancient text, and usually with complete neglect of writing and book production in late antiquity. As a result, the formation process has remained vague, carrying the burden of a supposed oral transmission derived from the idea of “Oral Torah.” By looking at how texts were composed, and literate minds were formed in late antiquity, this lecture will present a material reality of bits and pieces of knowledge that left their distinct mark on the structure of the Talmudic text. A tangible model for the Talmud’s composition will be presented that was informed by everyday data management processes as well as by a related aesthetics and rhetoric of, again, bits and pieces.

By comparing the Talmudic text to other texts not in content but in structure, it will be shown that the Talmud is basically a symposiac commentary on the Mishnah, shaped against the model of the Palestinian Talmud. It will be argued that commentaries to lemmas from the Mishnah were crafted using an elaborate system of excerpts, which can be reconstructed using examples from bookkeeping.

About the Speaker

Monika Amsler PhD

at University of Zurich

Monika Amsler (PhD, University of Zurich) is a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of History at the University of Bern, Switzerland. Her first book The Talmud and Late Antique Book Culture is forthcoming with Cambridge University Press in May 2023. She is also the editor of a volume on Knowledge Construction in Late Antiquity (De Gruyter, 2023). Her research interests cover education and book production as well as ancient world making more broadly.