The Adventures of Rabbah bar bar Hannah as a Polemic Against Babylonian Jewry
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In the Babylonian Talmud (Bava Batra 73a1) there is a legal discussion pertaining to the buying and selling of ships. Amidst this deliberation, the Talmud veers off course, as it is wont to do, and introduces the reader to the legendary travel stories2 of Rabbah bar bar Hannah, heretofore referred to as RBBH.3 It is because of these stories that RBBH is often referred to as the “Jewish Sinbad the Sailor”. These tales tell of monstrous beasts and colossal sea creatures, as well as encounters with some of the ancient Biblical locations and personalities of the Israelite desert experience. Because of their wild and outlandish nature, these tales have attracted a great deal of interest, both from traditional Rabbinic commentators as well as modern scholars. Much ink has been spilled in an attempt to grasp the meaning and significance of these stories. The ideas put forth by the scholars of the ages, although intriguing and quite fascinating, are certainly not without their deficiencies. This essay represents an attempt to propose novel interpretations of these anecdotes. It will propose that these legends must be understood in the broader context of the life of RBBH.4 As a person who was originally born in Babylonia who subsequently moved to Israel, as well as one who later in life decided to take up the task of transmitting rabbinc teachings from Israel to Babylonia and back, RBBH eventually developed a distaste for his brethren dwelling outside of the Holy Land. This essay will argue that these adventures are meant to be understood within this greater context, namely that they serve as RBBH’s polemic against Babylonian Jewry.
Senior honor's thesis / Open Access
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