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Vol 21 No 9 Sept/Oct 2016

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Stories of the Law: Narrative Discourse and the Construction of Authority in the Mishnah

ISBN13: 9780199773732
Published: May 2012
Publisher: Oxford University Press USA
Country of Publication: USA
Format: Hardback
Price: £53.00
Paperback edition , ISBN13 9780199356386

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Moshe Simon-Shoshan offers a groundbreaking study of Jewish law (halakhah) and rabbinic story-telling. Focusing on the Mishnah, the foundational text of halakhah, he argues that narrative was essential in early rabbinic formulations and concepts of law, legal process, and political and religious authority. Simon-Shoshan first sets out a theoretical framework for considering the role of narrative in the Mishnah. Drawing on a wide range of disciplines, including narrative theory, Semitic linguistics, and comparative legal studies, he argues that law and narrative are inextricably intertwined in the Mishnah. Narrative is central to the way in which the Mishnah transmits law and ideas about jurisprudence.

Furthermore, the Mishnah's stories are the locus around which the authority of the rabbis as supreme arbiters of Jewish law is both constructed and critiqued. In the second half of the book, Simon-Shoshan applies these ideas to close readings of individual Mishnaic stories. Among these stories are some of the most famous narratives in rabbinic literature, including those of Honi the Circle-drawer and R. Gamliel's Yom Kippur confrontation with R. Joshua. In each instance, Simon-Shoshan elucidates the legal, political, theological, and human elements of the story and places them in the wider context of the book's arguments about law, narrative, and rabbinic authority. Stories of the Law presents an original and forceful argument for applying literary theory to legal texts, challenging the traditional distinctions between law and literature that underlie much contemporary scholarship.

Preface for Non-Specialists in Rabbinic Literature Notes on Texts, Translations and Transcriptions

Part I Narrativity in the Mishnah
1. Introduction
2. Stories, Narratives and Narrativity
3. A Typology of Mishnaic Forms
4. Mishnaic Topography
5. The Mishnah in Comparative Context

Part II The Mishnaic Story
6. Transmission, Redaction and Rhetoric
7. Exempla: Who is a Rabbi?
8. Case Stories: Repetition and Renewal
9. Etiological Stories: Original Nightmares
10. Conclusion

Appendix: List of Stories in the Mishnah Notes