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Rabbis, Sorcerers, Kings, and PriestsThe Culture of the Talmud in Ancient Iran$
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Jason Sion Mokhtarian

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780520286207

Published to California Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520286207.001.0001

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Rabbinic Portrayals of Persians as Others

Rabbinic Portrayals of Persians as Others

(p.43) 3 Rabbinic Portrayals of Persians as Others
Rabbis, Sorcerers, Kings, and Priests

Jason Sion Mokhtarian

University of California Press

This chapter analyzes the dozens of texts in rabbinic literature, including the Jerusalem Talmud and Midrashim, that describe the Persians as an imperial ethno-class. After explicating the range of scholarly debates, from Jacob Neusner’s pessimism to Yaakov Elman’s optimism, regarding the extent to which there exist Persian influences on the Talmud, chapter 3 investigates the rabbis’ attitudes and debates surrounding Persians as external others. For its part, the Babylonian Talmud discusses Persian cuisine, sex habits, fashion, festivals, and law in various places, typically as a means of contrast with rabbinic culture. Several common leitmotifs are found in these passages—namely, the Persians as haughty, horse riders, and bears (Dan. 7:5). Both exegesis and history play a role in the way in which the Babylonian rabbis depict the Persians. Notably, the Talmud does not focus on the Zoroastrian elements of Persian culture, thus downplaying the religious dimensions of the Jewish-Persian interface. This chapter also discusses at length the interpretation of Iranian loanwords in the Talmud.

Keywords:   Talmudic portrayals of Persians, Jerusalem Talmud, Midrash, otherness, Jacob Neusner, Yaakov Elman, Iranian loanwords in the Talmud

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