How to Read Ancient Texts

I am reading the proofs of my contribution to The Reception of Jesus in the First Three Centuries. The following quotes from Daniel Boyarin are true not only for dealing with what the Talmud has to say about Jesus but for any time we are engaging ancient texts.

The effort must be made to read the texts in their own context and resist the temptation to ask of the texts the questions we have, but rather to understand the questions they are seeking to answer. Boyarin puts it succinctly: “I am claiming that we ought to read this text as a historian would read fiction.” By this he means that we should not seek to mine these stories for historical facts, but for historical realities, an understanding of how the community of the texts understood themselves through these stories. “I am suggesting that through the medium of the legend, the rabbis are teaching us something of the complexities of their world and their worldview.”

Brady, “Talmudim,” citing Boyarin daniel Boyarin, Dying for God: Martyrdom and the Making of Christianity and Judaism (stanford, Ca: stanford university Press, 2007).

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