Crossing Enemy Lines: Network Connections Between Palestinian and Babylonian Sages in Late Antiquity

in Journal for the Study of Judaism
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The Palestinian and Babylonian Talmuds transmit stories about sages who crossed the boundaries between the Roman and Persian empires in late antiquity to sojourn in the “enemy” territory for a certain amount of time. These sages, who were members of local rabbinic networks, established inter-regional network connections among Palestinian and Babylonian scholars which reached across political boundaries. This paper will investigate how these connections were established and maintained. What was the role of place and mobility in an intellectual network “without propinquity”?1 Which segments of the respective local rabbinic networks maintained inter-regional contacts? Or more specifically: which sages are presented as the main nodal points within these networks and what were their roles within Palestinian and Babylonian Jewish society? How did network centrality and power shift from Palestine to Babylonia between the fourth and sixth centuries c.e.?

Crossing Enemy Lines: Network Connections Between Palestinian and Babylonian Sages in Late Antiquity

in Journal for the Study of Judaism




Jacob NeusnerA History of the Jews in Babylonia Part 1: The Parthian Period (2d ed.; Atlanta: Scholars Press1999) investigates references to Babylonian sages before the third century c.e. The problem with his approach is that he takes these references literally as historical evidence.


See A.D. LeeInformation and Frontiers: Roman Foreign Relations in Late Antiquity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press1993) 55-58.


See NeusnerHistory122 134-37.


Martin Kiduff and Wenpin TsaiSocial Networks and Organizations (London: Sage Publications2003) 87-90.


Kidoff and TsaiSocial Networks90.


See HezserJewish Travel109-19.




John M. Matthews“Hostages, Philosophers, Pilgrims, and the Diffusion of Ideas in the Late Roman Mediterranean and Near East,” in Tradition and Innovation in Late Antiquity (ed. F.M. Clover and R.S. Humphreys; Madison: University of Wisconsin Press1989) 29-50at 36.




OppenheimerBetween Rome and Babylon418.


See Henning BörmProkop und die Perser: Untersuchungen zu den römisch-sasanidischen Kontakten in der ausgehenden Spätantike (Oriens et Occidens 16; Stuttgart: Franz Steiner2007) 247-49.


According to Richard KalminJewish Babylonia Between Persia and Roman Palestine: Decoding the Literary Record (Oxford: Oxford University Press2006) 103-20 there was a “paucity of idols in Babylonia” (p. 119) in Sasanian times but nevertheless an “anxiety about idolatry” (p. 108) among Babylonian rabbis.


Cordula Weissköppel“A Sudanese Snack Bar in Berlin: Vitalization and Presence in the Diaspora,” in Between Resistance and Expansion: Explorations of Local Vitality in Africa (ed. Peter Probst and Gerd Spittler; Münster: Lit Verlag2004) 91-114 at 94 with regard to the Sudanese Diaspora community in Germany.


OppenheimerBeween Rome and Babylon418. R. Yohanan’s opinions are also often associated with Babylonia in the Talmud Yerushalmi see e.g. “Those who went down from the West to there [Babylonia] said in the name of R. Yohanan . . .” (y. Ber. 4:6 8c); R. Zeira is said to have found a solution to an issue when he heard the opinion of R. Yohanan in the Land of Israel (y. ʿErub. 1:1 18d; y. Ber. 2:1 4b; y. Meg. 2:2 73a).


For references see HezserJewish Travel345.


See Giovanni Ruffini“Late Antique Pagan Networks from Athens to the Thebaid,” in Ancient Alexandria Between Egypt and Greece (ed. William V. Harris and Giovanni Ruffini; Leiden: Brill2004) 241-57esp. 241.


See ibid.249.


Olav Sorensen“Social Networks, Informational Complexity and Industrial Geography,” in The Role of Labour Mobility and Informal Networks for Knowledge Transfer (ed. D. Fornahl, C. Zellner, and D. Audretsch; New York: Springer2005) 79-96at 81.


See the entries in Moshe KosovskyConcordance to the Talmud Yerushalmi (Palestinian Talmud): Onomasticon: Thesaurus of Proper Names (Jerusalem: Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities1985) 612-24 (Rab); 191-98 (R. Huna); 52 (Abaye); 625 (Raba). On the scarcity of Abaye and Raba in the Palestinian Talmud see also Christine E. Hayes Between the Babylonian and Palestinian Talmuds: Accounting for Halakhic Difference in Selected Sugyot from Tractate Avodah Zarah (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1997) 20.


See also Isaiah M. GafniLand Center and Diaspora: Jewish Constructs in Late Antiquity (JSPSup 21; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic1997) 73-74.


See HezserSocial Structure446-48.

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