Selected Topics from: G. Stemberger, Introduction to Talmud and Midrash


Meaning of word:

From root ShNY, implying memorization and repetition of oral tradition.

Distinct from: Midrash [=Scriptural exposition]; Halakhah [=legal exposition]; Aggadah [=non-legal discussions].

Technically: Mishnah can be seen as the antithesis of Midrash.

Generic use of Mishnah: Any rabbinic oral teaching from Tannaitic era [including baraita].

Specialized usage: The ["Our"] Mishnah.

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Structure and Contents:

Structure, division into Orders and Tractates, names of tractates are attested in ancient sources. Exact sequence of Orders and Tractates may have been flexible.

Six Orders [span class="HebTerm">Seder; pl. Sedarim]; 60 Tractates [Massekhet].

Sequence is generally a logical, topical one. There are, however, many digressions. Many of the exceptions are collections of sources linked by a formal or stylistic similarity, probably taken from an earlier collection that was arranged by different criteria.

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Origin of the Mishnah:

Problem faced by traditional Jewish writers:

Traditionalist solutions:

Mishnah reflects attempt to reconstruct earlier unified tradition that had become fragmented during the Second Temple era.

The later scholars were dealing more with the literary form than with the contents of the tradition.

Academic scholarship does not have to worry about these dogmatic claims.

Which came first: Midrash or Mishnah?

In other words: Were oral traditions derived primarily from Scripture or transmitted independently?

--Question not resolved. Most likely the two forms existed simultaneously.

Attempts to reconstruct the development of the Mishnah.

Attempts to identify the Mishnah's use of earlier materials.

Anecdotal traditions from Talmud are generally unreliable. Better to base conclusions on internal evidence.

Identification of earlier strata and collections: Tractates Tamid and Middot.

Mishnah does appear to stem from School of Rabbi Akiva; distinct from that of Rabbi Ishmael.

Scholarly assumption that authorship can be determined by identifying the opinions expressed in anonymous passages [J. N. Epstein].

Redaction of the Mishnah:

General consensus that the redactor was Rabbi Judah ha-Nasi [the Prince; Patriarch].

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The present version clearly contains some later additions.

What is implied by "redaction:?

Different from authorship. The Mishnah does not reflect Rabbi Judah's personal opinions.

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What was the purpose of the Mishnah?

Various scholarly theories:

  1. Collection of sources; teaching manual.
  2. code of law; in disputed cases, normative position indicated by its anonymity.

Question not resolved.

Nature of publication process:

Remained oral work: published by memorization.

To what extent was the text considered "canonical" or unchangeable?

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