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Saints or Sinners, Scholars or Ignoramuses? Stories about the Rabbis as Evidence for the Composite Nature of the Babylonian Talmud

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डाउनलोड की गई फ़ाइलों की गुणवत्ता क्या है?
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15
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AJS Review
DOI:
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January, 1990
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अपनी समीक्षा पोस्ट करने के लिए साइन इन करें या साइन अप करें
आप पुस्तक समीक्षा लिख सकते हैं और अपना अनुभव साझा कर सकते हैं. पढ़ूी हुई पुस्तकों के बारे में आपकी राय जानने में अन्य पाठकों को दिलचस्पी होगी. भले ही आपको किताब पसंद हो या न हो, अगर आप इसके बारे में ईमानदारी से और विस्तार से बताएँगे, तो लोग अपने लिए नई रुचिकर पुस्तकें खोज पाएँगे.
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The Covenant of the Prophets: Muslim Texts, Jewish Subtexts

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The Formation of the Biblical Narrative Corpus

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1990
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Saints or Sinners, Scholars or Ignoramuses? Stories about the Rabbis as Evidence for the
Composite Nature of the Babylonian Talmud
Author(s): Richard Kalmin
Source: AJS Review, Vol. 15, No. 2 (Autumn, 1990), pp. 179-205
Published by: Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Association for Jewish Studies
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SAINTS OR SINNERS,
SCHOLARS OR IGNORAMUSES?
STORIES ABOUT THE RABBIS
AS EVIDENCE FOR THE
COMPOSITENATURE
OF THE BABYLONIAN TALMUD
by
RICHARD KALMIN

As Jacob Neusner and others have argued, before talmudic stories can
be evaluated as historical evidence we must ask who the original authors
were, what were their motives, and who was their intended audience.' Even
once we obtain the "original" version of a story, we do not necessarily have

I wish to thank Professors Baruch M. Bokser, Shaye J. D. Cohen, and Burton Visotzky of
the Jewish Theological Seminary, who read earlier versions of this paper and offered several
valuable suggestions.

1. See below, Bibliographical Note.

179

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180

RICHARD
KALMIN

access to;  the historical event which gave rise to the story. For perhaps
accounts of the historical event have been colored, even distorted beyond
recognition, by the needs, desires, and beliefs of the original authors. Or perhaps the stories they transmit are fabrications, invented by students or later
editors with a particular goal in mind.
In this paper, I examine the Talmud's portrayal of the characters and
personalities of amoraim of the first through the fourth generation, for
example Ray and Shmuel, R. Yohanan, Resh Lakish, and R. Elazar ben
Pedat, Rabbah and Rav Yosef, and Abaye and Rava. I ask whether these
amoraim are presented as saints or as sinners, as scholars or as ignoramuses,
as friends and colleagues or as barely on speaking terms. My goal is to determine whether their portrayals aid us in identifying and describing some of
the diverse sources that make up the Babylonian Talmud. I discover that talmudic accounts of their characters and personalities and the nature of their
interactions contain contradictions that betray the existence of opposing
sources. According to some sources, for example, Abaye is ignorant and
incompetent while Rava is the greatest scholar of his generation. According
to other sources, Rava is sinful and arrogant, cruel toward his contemporaries and disrespectful toward his teacher, in contrast to Abaye, who is a
loyal and devoted disciple. According to my conclusions and the conclusions of other scholars, important aspects of the history of the amoraic
period need to be reevaluated, since historians have tended to accept talmudic stories as reliable evidence once miraculous elements and later editorial accretions have been removed.
This is not to say that every contradiction is proof of a distinct source.
Yonah Fraenkel is very likely correct that many aggadic compositions must
be examined purely as works of art.2 The purpose of many talmudic stories
is not to advance a particular school's agenda or to promote the teachings of
a particular master, but to teach a moral lesson, to make a statement about
the nature of the world or God or the human predicament. As such, the
character of the amoraic protagonist may be molded to fit the particular
statement the author wishes to make. The same school or author, depending
on the needs of the narrative, might portray the same rabbi in contradictory
2. See, for example, Yonah Fraenkel, "Sheelot Hermeneutiot be-Heker Sipur haAgadah," Tarbiz 47 (1978): 139-172. See also the response by E. E. Halevi, "Od al Genre
Hadash ba-Sipurei ha-Agadah," Tarbiz 49 (1980): 424-428, and Fraenkel's rejoinder ("Teshuva," p. 429, there).

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STORIES ABOUT THE RABBIS AND THE COMPOSITION OF THE BAVLI

181

terms. Patricia Cox, examining Eusebius's biography of Origen, makes the
same point. Eusebius's Origen, she writes, is "Janus-faced," meaning that a
unified, coherent personality does not emerge from Eusebius's account of
the life of Origen because the actual, historical Origen is refracted through
the lens of Eusebius and the requirements of his narrative and the audience
for whom he is writing.3 On several occasions, however, the nature of the
contradictions is such that the existence of opposing sources seems the most
likely explanation. In the final analysis, every narrative and every contradiction needs to be evaluated on its own terms.
Sources Are Not Systematically Altered
Examination of cases in which Abaye and Rava definitely appear in each
other's presence reveals that Rava occasionally defeats Abaye in argument,
but almost as often Abaye has the last word. Rava defeats Abaye, for example, in stories which describe legal cases brought before Abaye for judgment,
whereupon Abaye procrastinates and fails to deliver a prompt verdict. The
litigants are told by a student of Rava to go before Rava, whose "knife is
sharp," and Rava delivers a prompt, and correct, decision.4 Similarly, we
find cases in which a student comes to Abaye with a halakhic question or a
problem of interpretation, but Abaye is unable to answer. The student takes
his question to Rava, who resolves the difficulty.5 Abaye defeats Rava, for
example, in one case in which Abaye, Rava, Rav Zeira, and Rabbah bar
Matna are described as "needing a leader."6They decide that the honor will
fall to whoever makes a statement which withstands his colleagues' criticism. Abaye's opinion prevails and he wins the right to open the discussion.7
3. Patricia Cox, Biography in Late Antiquity (Berkeley: University of California Press,
1983), pp. 69-101.
4. Yevamot 122a (see Dikdukei Sopherim, n. yud, on Hullin 77a) and Hullin 77a. See also
Baba Batra 22a. The student referredto in both instances is Rav Ada bar Ahava, for Rav Ada
bar Matna is elsewhere described as a student of both Abaye and Rava, while Rav Ada bar
Ahava was only a student of Rava. See Mordechai Yudelowitz, Mahoza.: Me-Hayei haYehudimbi-Zeman ha-Talmud (Jerusalem, 1947), p. 85, and Wilhelm Bacher, Die Agada der
BabylonischenAmoraier(Frankfurt am Main, 1913), p. 115, n. 8, and see the discussion below.
5. Nazir 19b and Makkot 6a.
6. Horayot 14a. The phrase literally means they "needed a head."
7. Note that in the continuation of the story, Abaye does a poor job of concealing his happiness at having defeated his colleagues. The story does not reflect any clear-cut pro-Abaye or
anti-Rava bias. See also Taanit 21b-22a, and see the discussion below.

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182

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KALMIN

In another context, Abaye suggests how an impoverished scholar can legally
improve his financial situation.8 Rava follows with an objection, in Abaye's
presence; Abaye responds, and Abaye's view prevails. In a third context, in
fact, Rava himself is portrayed as recounting a conversation he had with
Abaye in which Abaye "surrounded [him] with proofs."9 Rava quotes
Abaye's objection, his own response, and Abaye's refutation of his
response.l0
We cannot assume that cases in which Abaye prevails over Rava reflect
the point of view of Abaye and his school, or the point of view of editors
favoring Abaye, while cases in which Rava prevails over Abaye reflect the
perspective of Rava and his school, or of editors favoring Rava. The notion
that students or editors will skew the sources in favor of a particular rabbi
whenever they have the opportunity is difficult to maintain in the face of
abundant evidence to the contrary. I concluded in an earlier study that statements by the overwhelming majority of fourth-generation amoraim are preserved in the Talmud primarily to the extent to which they have a bearing
upon a handful of important amoraim." Statements by fourth-generation
rabbis such as Rami bar Hama, Rav Huna bar Hinena, Mar Zutra b. d'Rav
Nahman, and Rav Dimi MiNehardea are preserved primarily to the extent
to which they bear upon amoraim such as Abaye and Rava. In other words,
fourth-generation amoraim depend on Abaye and Rava for the preservation of their statements in the Talmud. And yet there is no evidence of an
attempt on the part of Abaye or Rava or their disciples, or on the part of
later editors favoring Abaye or Rava, to distort the nature of their interactions with most of their contemporaries. In one context, Rava judges a case
and Rav Huna bar Hinena and Rav Huna b. d'Rav Nahman disagree with
his decision.12 Rava publicly announces his opinion, and Huna bar Hinena

8. Baba Batra 174b.
9. Avodah Zarah 57b-58a.
10. See also Shabbat 7b, Eruvin 57b (twice), Ketubot 8la-b (see David Halivni, Mekorot
u-Mesorot: Nashim [Tel Aviv: Dvir 1968], pp. 45-46), and possibly Ketubot 39a (see the discussion below) and Hullin 125b.
11. Richard Kalmin, The Redaction of the Babylonian Talmud, Amoraic or Saboraic?
(Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 1989), pp. 54-65. See also Jacob Neusner, A History
of the Jews in Babylonia (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1965-70), vol. 4, p. 74, n. 1, and pp. 287-289.
12. Avodah Zarah 57b-58a.

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STORIES ABOUT THE RABBIS AND THE COMPOSITION OF THE BAVLI

183

and Huna b. d'Rav Nahman publicly announce their opposing opinion.
Later on, Ray Nahman travels to Mahoza,'3 he and Rava discuss the matter, and Rava is surprised to learn that Ray Nahman agrees with Huna bar
Hinena and Huna b. d'Rav Nahman, and that he, Rava, misunderstood his
teacher. In another context, Huna bar Hinena judges a case, Rava objects in
his presence, and the two sages publicly proclaim their contradictory
opinions.14 The text provides no indication that either point of view prevails.
In fact, later amoraic discussion takes notice only of the opinion of Huna
bar Hinena in determining the halakhah, and completely ignores the opposing opinion of Rava.'s We see, therefore, that the sages through whom our
sources are transmitted, or later editors on behalf of those sages, did not
systematically distort the record of their interactions with most of their contemporaries. They did not, or could not, systematically alter the sources to
make them appear infallible.'6
We see this even in their interactions with sages with whom they are
portrayed as engaging in obvious conflict. For example, talmudic sources
portray conflicts between Rava, on the one hand, and Huna bar Hinena and

13. See Tractate Abodah Zarah, ed. Shraga Abramson (New York: Jewish Theological
Seminary, 1957), p. 212, notes on line 18. See also Tosafot, s.v. Ikla, and Ritba, s.v. u-le-Inyan.
My point is made even more decisively according to the reading of the printed edition.
14. Avodah Zarah 40a.
15. See also Shabbat 129a, Pesahim 58b, Bezah 6a, Ketubot 7 1b, Gittin 75a-b, Baba Kamma
6a and 42a, Baba Batra 21a (twice), Avodah Zarah 12a, 30a-b (the Munich manuscript reads
Rav Papa instead of Rava) and 44b, Zevahim 96b, Menahot 35a (twice), Arakhin 22b, Niddah
24b, and possibly Yoma 72b. In these cases, Abaye's or Rava's statements are followed by
opposing statements by Rav Dimi MiNehardea, Rabbah bar Ulla, and the Nehardeans. Several of these opposing statements contain explicit criticisms of the opinions of Abaye or Rava.
And yet statements by these amoraim are included in the Talmud primarily to the extent to
which they are transmitted in the proximity of opposing statements by Abaye or Rava. With
regard to the Nehardeans, see David Goodblatt, "Local Traditions in the Babylonian Talmud,"
Hebrew Union College Annual 48 (1977): 187-194. The disciples of Abaye and Rava who transmitted these disputes did not alter them to make it appear as if their masters had the final word,
nor did they remove the explicit criticisms of their masters' opinions.
16. For a discussion of the editorial techniques used by ancient authors, see F. Gerald
Downing, "Compositional Conventions and the Synoptic Problem," Journal of Biblical Literature 107, no 1 (1988): 69-85. Downing shows (p. 70) that in the ancient world, "even the most
highly literate and sophisticated writers employ relatively simple approaches to their
'sources.'" J. Hornblower, Hieronymus of Cardia (London and New York: Oxford University
Press, 1981), p. 280, for example, writes that Diodorus Siculus "merely paraphrased or extracted, without addition or interpretation, except of the simplest kind."

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184

RICHARD
KALMIN

Huna b. d'Rav Nahman, on the other. In addition to the two confrontations
described above, Huna bar Hinena makes an eruv on behalf of the exilarch," and Rava follows after him and uproots it. Elsewhere, Huna bar
Hinena is about to publicly proclaim a law regarding vows,'s and Rava
sharply objects in his presence. Rava once rejects Huna bar Hinena's argument with the words, "Someone who does not know how to explain tannaitic sources made this objection."'9 In another context, Rava quotes Ray
Nahman and fails to remember essential details of his teacher's opinion,
details which Huna bar Hinena and Huna b. d'Rav Nahman remember.20
According to some versions in another context, Rava berates Huna bar
Hinena for transmitting false opinions in Ray Nahman's name.21 The talmudic record is unambiguous in portraying bitter opposition between Rava,
on the one hand, and Huna bar Hinena and Huna b. d'Rav Nahman, on the
other. It is also clear that statements by Huna bar Hinena and Huna b.
d'Rav Nahman are included in the Talmud primarily to the extent to which
they impinge upon Rava and a handful of other important amoraim. This
evidence for the existence of conflict between Rava and his contemporaries
thus comes to us through the eyes of Rava, or his students, or later editors
who favored Rava. Nevertheless, this evidence by no means presents an
unambiguous picture of Rava as the dominant scholar of his generation.
Instead, it presents a picture of Rava confronted by imposing adversaries
who were on several occasions more than a match for him. When they clash,
neither one consistently emerges victorious. Once again, we see that the
sages through whom our sources are transmitted, or later editors on behalf
of those sages, did not systematically distort the record of their interactions
with most of their contemporaries.
Quite plausibly, an important factor in Rava's clashes with Huna bar
Hinena and Huna b. d'Rav Nahman was competition over who was legitimate successor to Rav Nahman, a teacher common to all three. Other
sources portray bitter clashes between Rava and his contemporaries, and it
is hard to view as mere coincidence the fact that several of these clashes pit
Rava against sages whose fathers were dominant figures in the preceding

17.
18.
19.
20.
21.

Eruvin 25b.
Nedarim 23b.
Eruvin 67b.
Hullin 49b.
Hullin 50a-b. See also Baba Batra 155a and Avodah Zarah 24a (and parallel).

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STORIES ABOUT THE RABBIS AND THE COMPOSITION OF THE BAVLI

185

generation. Such sages, by virtue of their superior lineage, would have had a
natural claim to leadership within the rabbinic movement.
For example, most of Rava's interactions with Mar Zutra b. d'Rav
Nahman consist of quotations by Mar Zutra b. d'Rav Nahman of his
father's positions as reported by Rabbanan in the presence of Rava. Each
time, Rava responds angrily, "Haven't I already told you not to attribute
worthless opinions to Ray Nahman!22This is what Ray Nahman said .. ."23
Similarly, Rava several times comments on statements by Rav Nahman bar
Rav Hisda, and on all but one uncertain occasion24the comment is a sharply
worded rejection of Nahman bar Hisda's opinion which translates roughly
as, "What a stupid thing to say."25

Hostile Stories Betray the Existence of OpposingSources
In the previous section, I argued against the notion that students or later
editors systematically skew the sources in favor of a particular rabbi whenever they have the opportunity. As Jacob Neusner and others have argued,
however, the transmitters of stories and/or the editors of the Talmud are not
above occasional character assassination. Neusner and others point to the
fact that several amoraim are the subjects of unflattering stories which they
claim originated in circles hostile to these amoraim. In the following pages,
Neusner's insight is confirmed and refined through analysis of stories told
about several prominent amoraim of the first through the fourth generation.
Talmudic narratives about the rabbis are shown to derive from a variety of
sources, some hostile and others sympathetic, some portraying them as the
greatest scholars of their generation, others portraying them as ignorant and
arrogant.
22. I have paraphrased Rava's statement. The literal meaning is, "Haven't I told you not to
hang empty bottles on Rav Nahman!"
23. Baba Batra 7a and 151b, and A vodahZarah 37b. In addition, Rava rejects Mar Zutra b.
d'Rav Nahman's argument on Gittin 50a. Interestingly, the two amoraim are definitely in each
other's presence only on Hullin 94b, in which context we find no hint of competition between
them. See also Bezah 34b and Bekhorot 54b.
24. Horayot 10b (see Dikdukei Sopherim, n. heh). In that context, Rava simply objects
against Ray Nahman bar Ray Hisda's view and follows with an alternative.
25. Ketubot 63b, Shevuot 12b, and Hullin 88b. In all three cases, Rava's comment is followed by a defense of Rav Nahman bar Rav Hisda's opinion by Rav Nahman bar Yizhak. In
both instances, Rav Nahman bar Yizhak's argument prevails.

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186

KALMIN
RICHARD

Before substantiating these claims, however, it is necessary to say a few
words about the criteria used in determining that stories derive from diverse
sources. Since both favorable and unfavorable stories about an amora often
come to us as part of the same document, the Babylonian Talmud, it is frequently impossible to discern the existence of opposing sources. We must be
wary about imposing Western, twentieth-century values on the actions of
ancient rabbis. In one context, for example, Rava refuses to surrender the
property of Isur the convert, who is lying on his deathbed. Rava's plan is to
take possession of the property when Isur dies. Rava wants to prevent his
student, Ray Mari son of Isur, from taking possession of the property.26
Rava discusses several ways in which ownership of property is normally
transferred, and explains why each method has no efficacy in the present
instance. Rava's student, Ray Ika b. d'Rav Ami, suggests a way in which
Ray Mari can take possession even without Rava's cooperation. Word
reaches the dying Isur, who follows the suggestion of Ray Ika b. d'Rav Ami
and transfers ownership to his son. Word of what happened reaches Rava,
and he angrily denounces his students for causing him economic loss.
Rava's conduct in this instance strikes us as reprehensible,27which might
lead us to conclude that the story derives from circles hostile to Rava. More
likely, the Talmud does not share our ethical standards in this matter. Rava
is perfectly within his rights in holding on to Isur's property, since Ray
Mari, born to Isur before he converted, has no claim to his father's inheritance according to Jewish law. Furthermore, it is not Rava's responsibility
to tell Isur how he can transfer ownership to Ray Mari. Rava's students, in
fact, can be faulted for using their halakhic knowledge to influence the
course of a monetary dispute they have no business getting involved in.28
Our moral standards, therefore, are often quite different from those of the
talmudic rabbis. What strikes us as a hostile source often turns out not to be
when viewed from the perspective of the Talmud itself.
Even the portrayal of behavior unattractive by the Talmud's standards,
26. Baba Batra 149a.
27. See Heinrich Graetz, Geschichte der Juden (1853-75; reprint ed., Leipzig: O. Leiner,
1873-1900), vol. 4, pp. 332-333, who criticizes Rava's actions in this story. See the material
collected by Yudelowitz, Mahoza, pp. 68-70. Yudelowitz concludes that relations between
Rava and his students were strained.
28. See Mishnah Avot 1:8. See also Ketubot 52b, where R. Yohanan castigates himself for
giving halakhic advice to one of the parties in a monetary dispute, and thereby influencing the
outcome of the case.

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STORIES ABOUT THE RABBIS AND THE COMPOSITION OF THE BAVLI

187

however, cannot always be taken as evidence of a hostile source. In ancient
as in modern times, a complex personality evokes a variety of different
responses, even among those most sympathetic to him. In ancient as in
modern times, a single individual might be spoken of, by the same people, in
terms alternatingly reverential and harshly critical. This is not to say that we
know enough about the psychology of talmudic rabbis to draw exact parallels between the modern and ancient periods. We certainly do not. It is simply to say that caution is necessary when determining whether or not a
source is hostile on the basis of its portrayal of an individual sage. The same
individuals who revere a rabbi for his outstanding scholarship might dislike
him for his nasty temper, and might carefully preserve vivid descriptions of
both aspects of his personality.
The situation is not totally hopeless, however. Occasionally we are on
firm ground in determining that a story derives from a hostile source. One
clear indication of this fact is the imputation to a rabbi of character traits
which within the rabbinic value system mark the person off as fundamentally flawed or inadequate. A rabbi might be portrayed as dishonest, ignorant,
a transmitter of unreliable traditions, or as violating fundamental rabbinic
precepts.29Another important clue that a story derives from a hostile source
is the presence in the story of rabbis who have clear motivation for portraying an amora in unflattering terms (see below). Finally, if an amora's portrayal in one story conflicts with his portrayal in another story, the existence
of opposing sources may be the most likely explanation. Obviously, our
argument is considerably stronger when more than one of these factors
coincide.
The sources portray conflict, for example, between Ray, Shmuel, and
Karna, important Babylonian amoraim of the first generation. When Rav
and Shmuel are about to encounter one another for the first time, Shmuel
sends his student, Karna, to test Rav's learning.30When Rav realizes he is
being tested, he responds by cursing Karna, punning on his name: "May it
be [God's] will that a horn [karna] come out of his eye." Shmuel, knowing
that Rav is afflicted with a disease of the intestines, feeds him a meal which
stimulates his bowels and then refuses to show him the way to a privy. Rav
responds with a curse on Shmuel: "May the one who caused me this pain
29. See the discussion below.
30. Shabbat 108a. According to the printed editions, this story describes Rav's first appearance in Babylonia. See, however, Dikdukei Sopherim, n. bet.

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188

RICHARD KALMIN

not raise up male children," and the narrator states that "so it was," that
Rav's curse had its desired effect.3' Clearly, this story of Rav's first appearance in Babylonia represents a point of view hostile to Shmuel.32Shmuel
instigates the conflict and Ray is his innocent victim. Rav's curses strike us,
perhaps, as overly harsh retaliation, but to the transmitters of the story they
are appropriate responses to the cruel treatment he receives at the hands of
Shmuel and Karna. This story most likely derives from different channels
than those which portray Rav and Shmuel as cooperative colleagues.33Perhaps a different point of view is reflected in contexts in which Shmuel rejects
Rav's opinions, often in extremely harsh fashion,34 for the transmitters of
this story might have denied Shmuel the opportunity to have the final word
(see above). Most likely, the story of Rav's first meeting with Shmuel derives
from different channels than those which portray Shmuel guarding Ray
from serious halakhic errors, in one instance saving Rav's life in the process,
and in the other advising Rav that they ought to look more deeply into a
case before excommunicating an errant colleague." In the first instance,

31. On Baba Kamma80a-b, the anonymous editors attempt to resolve the tension between
this story of the relationship between Ray and Shmuel and the picture of their
relationship
found elsewhere in the Talmud. The anonymous editors claim that later on in his career, Ray
regretted his cursing of Shmuel and treated him with special respect. Modern scholars claim
that Shmuel was attempting to cure Ray of his intestinal disease. See, for example, Aharon
Hyman, Toldot Tannaim ve-Amoraim(London: Ha-Express, 1910), p. 1124. However, Rav's
reaction, the conclusion of the story, and the fact that Shmuel initiates the offensive test of
Rav's learning (see Baba Batra 22a) make this interpretation extremely unlikely.
32. For a story hostile to Rav, see A vodah Zarah 36a, where Rav claims that R. Simlai's
quotation of R. Yehuda ha-Nasi (Rabbi) presents no difficulty to his opinion because R. Simlai's traditions are untrustworthy. Shmuel suggests that they send to Rabbi for verification of
his opinion, and Rav "turns white [with embarrassment]."
33. See, for example, Berakhot 12a, Eruvin90a-b, Taanit 20b, Moed Katan 24a, Hagigah
14a, Yevamot 121a, Sanhedrin 24b, Avodah Zarah 31b, and Hullin 59a. One might reconcile
these accounts with Shabbat 108a by arguing that Rav and Shmuel were harsh men
who test one another and then put aside their differences and cooperate.
34. Shabbat 53a, Eruvin78a, and Moed Katan 12b. For additional evidence of the existence
of tension between Rav and Shmuel, see Eruvin93b-94a. Rav turns his head in an expression of
disagreement in response to Shumel's suggestion for repairing an eruv which has fallen down.
Shmuel responds by proposing that Rav's own garment be used in repairing the eruv in the
manner he suggested. Ritba and Meiri claim that Shmuel's comment was made in jest, but in
light of the other stories we have examined in the course of this paper, it seems more likely that
Shmuel's response should be taken at face value, as an expression of his anger at Rav's display
of disagreement and as an attempt by Shmuel to assert himself in the face of his recalcitrant
colleague.
35. Yevamot 121a and Hullin 59a.

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Shmuel explains to Ray how one tests meat to see if it is poisonous, and in
the second instance, Shmuel's circumspection pays off when it turns out that
the colleague erred in judgment, but did not willfully violate the law. Very
likely, the stories of Shmuel instructing Ray were told by sages who wished
to portray Shmuel as the superior scholar of his generation. These stories
very likely derive from different sources than numerous other narratives
which portray Ray as the greater of the two.36
A lengthy account of a clash between Ray Yehuda and Ray Nahman,
important Babylonian amoraim of the second generation, provides still
another perspective on the relationship between Ray and Shmuel.37Jacob
Neusner correctly attributes this story to sources hostile to Ray Nahman.
Neusner traces the origins of this hostility to Ray Nahman's close association with the court and family of the exilarch.38It is difficult to agree with
Neusner on the latter point, however, because Nahman's relationship to the
exilarch is referred to only once throughout the entire story, and the reference is not at all unfavorable. Nahman demands that Ray Yehuda appear
before him in court, whereupon Yehuda goes to Rav Huna and asks if he
should heed Nahman's summons. Huna answers that Nahman has overstepped his bounds, but Yehuda should go anyway so as not to offend the
exilarch. There is nothing in this exchange which implies criticism or resentment toward Nahman on account of his connection to the exilarch. In
general, Neusner's pioneering and important early work on the history of
the Jews in Babylonia overemphasizes the role of the exilarch in determining
the tenor of relationships between individual rabbis. One important factor
not considered by Neusner is competition between the rabbis themselves,
independent of the exilarch. Most likely, this competition is the motivating
factor behind this story's unflattering portrayal of Nahman. Throughout the
story, Nahman repeatedly displays his ignorance of the opinions of Shmuel.
Nahman's ignorance displays itself in a lengthy series of improper actions,
and each time, Yehuda quotes Shmuel against him. Nahman quotes two
statements by Ray, but Yehuda counters each time by demonstrating that
Rav's opinion is not applicable in the situation at hand. Most likely, this
story derives from sources sympathetic to Yehuda and hostile to Nahman,

36. See, for example, Hullin 95b.
37. Kiddushin70a-b.
38. Neusner, History of the Jews in Babylonia vol. 2, pp. 61-75.

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since one of the story's central concerns is to demonstrate the superiority of
Yehuda, the Pumbeditan, whose mastery of the teachings of the great
Nehardean sage, Shmuel, contrasts sharply with the ignorance of Shmuel's
Nehardean successor, Nahman. The story also attempts to explain away the
curious fact of Nahman's superiority in the judicial realm, even over amoraim who were his academic superiors. His preeminence in the judiciary,
claims the story, is not due to any merit on Nahman's part. On the contrary,
only out of respect for the house of the exilarch did Nahman's contemporaries subordinate themselves to him even though he was their inferior from
the standpoint of rabbinic learning. Finally, the story may be trying to show
the importance of adherence to the opinions of both Rav and Shmuel, to
show that knowledge of only the opinions of Rav will lead to the type of
ignorant behavior exhibited by Nahman. This conclusion is surprising, in
view of the fact that elsewhere, Nahman is well versed in the opinions of
Shmuel, quoting him to a far greater extent, in fact, than he quotes the
opinions of Rav.39This story, evidently, reflects a different view of Nahman
and his relationship to Shmuel.
Rav, Shmuel, and Rav Nahman are by no means the only sages concerning whom the Talmud contains a variety of perspectives which betray the
existence of opposing sources. It also contains opposing views regarding the
character of R. Elazar ben Pedat and his relationship to R. Yonahan, Palestinian amoraim of the second and third generations.40In two stories critical
of R. Elazar, for example, Resh Lakish states an opinion and Elazar follows
with an opposing view.41 Later on, Resh Lakish repeats his opinion in the
presence of R. Yohanan, and Yohanan states the view expressed earlier by
Elazar. Resh Lakish, angry at being publicly contradicted by his teacher,
denounces Elazar for stating an opinion and failing to attribute it to its
author, Yohanan. In another story critical of Elazar, the well-known
account of Resh Lakish's conversion to the rabbinic way of life, Elazar is
39. See Hanokh Albeck, Mavo la-Talmudim(Tel Aviv: Dvir, 1969), pp. 298-300. See also
Florsheim, "Ha-Yahasim bein Hakhmei ha-Dor ha-Sheni shel Amoraei Bavel," p. 282.
40. Compare Ronald Reuven Kimelman, "Rabbi Yohanan of Tiberias: Aspects of the
Social and Religious History of Third Century Palestine" (Ph.D. diss., Yale University, 1977),
pp. 131-137.
41. Ketubot 25b and Makkot 5b. For further evidence of tension between them, see Yevamot 72b and Menahot 93b. Compare Zevahim 5a. See also Baba Kamma 100a and Dikdukei
Sopherim, n. bet, and Bekhorot 26b (the Munich, Florence, Vatican, and London manuscripts
read R. Ilai instead of R. Elazar).

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portrayedas a studentwho continuallysupportsthe opinionsof his teacher,
Yohanan.42Elazaris contrastedunfavorablyto Resh Lakish,who constantly challengeshis teacher,spurringhim on to greaterand greaterinsight.In
the eyes of Yohanan,say the transmittersof this story, Elazaris an unsatisfactorysurrogatefor Resh Lakishafterthe latter'stragicdeath.Suchstories
are difficultto reconcilewith other narrativeswhich portrayan extremely
close relationshipbetweenYohananand Elazar,43
or whichshow Yohanan,
afterhis death, appearingto Elazarin a dreamand supportinghis interpretations.44On anotheroccasion, Elazarstates a halakhicopinion, Yohanan
follows with an objection,and Elazarsuccessfullyrefuteshis teacher'sargument. When Elazar observes his teacher's unhappinessat having been
defeatedin argumentby his student, Elazar skillfullysoothes his injured
pride.45 In anothercontext, Elazaris portrayedas a close disciple of Yohanan who knows how to interpretthe moods of his teacher.46Surelyit is
no coincidencethat when Elazaralone comes in contactwith Yohanan,in
all but two cases47their relationshipis harmoniousand Elazaris an exemplary student. By contrast,wheneverResh Lakishis also present,Elazar's
actions are unbefittinga scholar or bring him censurefrom his teacher.48
Interestingly,one storywhichmakesno mentionof Resh Lakishrepeatsthe
familiarchargeof plagiarismagainstElazar,who once againstates an opinion and fails to attributeit to its author,Yohanan.49Yohananis angrywith
Elazar,but ultimatelyrejoiceswhen R. Yaakov bar Idi bringsabout their
reconciliation.Yaakovbar Idi cleverlycomparesthe relationshipbetween
Yohananand Elazarto that betweenthe biblicalheroesMoses and Joshua.
The relationshipbetweenmasterand disciplein both instancesis so close
that there is no need for the discipleto quote the masterby name, argues
Yaakovbar Idi. Just as the ancientIsraelitesknew that everythingJoshua
42. Baba Mezia 84a.
43. Berakhot 5b, Yoma 53a, Hagiga 13a, and Baba Batra 7b.
44. Bekhorot 5a and 56a.
45. Ketubot Ill b.
46. Kiddushin31b.
47. Hullin 19b and Keritut 27a.
48. See Yevamot35b-36a, where R. Elazar comments on a statement by Resh Lakish and
displays no ill will toward him. See below for my discussion of the relationship between Rava
and Rav Yosef. Rava's conduct was an issue for Rav Yosef and/or his disciples (or later
editors), but in statements attributed to Rava, we find no evidence of any tension between
them.
49. Yevamot96b. See also Yer. Berakhot 2:1 (and parallels).

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said he heard from Moses, so too everything Elazar says derives from his
teacher, R. Yohanan. In the one context where the familiar charge of
plagiarism is raised and Resh Lakish is not present, therefore, the criticism
against Elazar is dismissed and he and his teacher are reconciled. Thus, the
various talmudic narratives dealing with the relationship between Yohanan
and Elazar contain irreconcilable contradictions and most likely derive from
diverse sources. Incidentally, the fact that the diverse sources independently
confirm Elazar's habit of not attributing opinions to his teacher provides
significant confirmation of its historicity.
Several other sages are portrayed unfavorably when found in the presence of a particular amora, but come off much better when they appear in
isolation or in the presence of a different amora. Close examination of each
individual story is necessary before final conclusions are drawn, but a likely
explanation is that stories about these amoraim derive from a variety of
sources. We see this, for example, in the interactions between Rav and Rav
Shila, R. Elazar and Shmuel, Rabbah and Mar Yehuda, Rava and Rav Papa
bar Shmuel, Rava and Mar Zutra b. d'Rav Nahman, Rava and Rav Nahman bar Rav Hisda, and Rava and Rami bar Hama.50Rav Shila, for example, is portrayed unfavorably when in the presence of Rav, but comes off
much better when Ray is not present or when Shmuel also figures in the
story. Rav Papa bar Shmuel invariably judges or acts incorrectly whenever
Rava appears in his presence or is mentioned in the same story. Rav Papa
bar Shmuel judges a case, for example, Rava objects in his presence, and
50. With regard to Rav and Rav Shila, see Yoma20b and Sanhedrin44a, where Rav Shila
appears in the presence of Rav and is portrayed unfavorably. See also Sanhedrin 109a. Compare Berakhot 49b, where Rav Shila quotes a statement by Rav. See also the references cited in
Benjamin Kosowsky, Ozar ha-Shemot (Jerusalem: Ministry of Education and Culture and
Jewish Theological Seminary, 1976-83), vol. 5, p. 1546. With regard to R. Elazar and Shmuel,
see Eruvin74a and Hullin 11 b, where Shmuel appears in the presence of R. Elazar and in both
cases is portrayed unfavorably. On Ketubot 77a, they appear in each other's presence and
Shmuel harshly rejects R. Elazar's tradition. With regard to Rabbah and Mar Yehuda, see
Eruvin 61b and Kiddushin 58a. See the references cited in Kosowsky, op. cit., p. 1036. With
regard to Rava and Rav Papa bar Shmuel, see Rosh Hashana 27a and 34b, Baba Kamma 84a,
Baba Mezia 60b and 109b, and Sanhedrin 26b. Compare Baba Batra 90b and Sanhedrin 17b.
See the references cited in Kosowsky, vol. 4, p. 1226. With regard to Rava and Mar Zutra b.
d'Rav Nahman, and Rava and Rav Nahman bar Rav Hisda, see the discussion above. In cases
where Rava is not involved, reaction to the opinions of Mar Zutra b. d'Rav Nahman and Rav
Nahman bar Rav Hisda follows no consistent pattern. Sometimes their opinions are rejected,
other times they go unchallenged. See the references cited by Kosowsky, vol. 3, pp. 1035-1036
and 1104-1105.

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Ray Papa bar Shmuel, in order to save face, asserts that he actually intended
to say what Rava says. Rava follows with one or two additional objections,
and again Ray Papa bar Shmuel adjusts his position, claiming each time
that he had intended to say what Rava says.5' Elsewhere, however, when
Rava is not present, Ray Papa bar Shmuel comes off quite well, as a community leader and judge, and as a student of Ray Yosef and Ray Hisda. In
these cases as well, the contradictory portraits most likely do not admit of
reconciliation and are evidence of opposing sources.
The famous story of Resh Lakish's conversion to the rabbinic way of life
contradicts the portrait found elsewhere of Yohanan's interaction with Resh
Lakish and provides further support for the claim that the Talmud's stories
derive from a variety of sources. Elsewhere in the Talmud, Yohanan and
Resh Lakish frequently relate to one another as colleagues. Their interaction typically begins with Yohanan and Resh Lakish stating contradictory
views, for example regarding the correct interpretation of a tannaitic source.
Yohanan follows with an objection against Resh Lakish and Resh Lakish
responds (or vice versa), after which Yohanan objects again, Resh Lakish
responds, and the two amoraim continue in this fashion until the sugya concludes. According to the story of Resh Lakish's conversion to the rabbinic
way of life, by contrast, Resh Lakish is Yohanan's student from beginning
to end.52 Yohanan claims that "when I stated an opinion, Resh Lakish
would follow with twenty-four objections and I would respond with twentyfour responses, and in this manner learning was increased." The lengthy
dialogues referred to by Yohanan are dialogues between a teacher and his
student, and not dialogues between equals. Yohanan states his view, Resh
Lakish objects as a student, and Yohanan resolves his objections. Throughout the story, Resh Lakish departs from this rigid pattern only once, opposing Yohanan in a halakhic dispute and confronting his teacher as an equal.
As a result, however, a bitter argument breaks out between them, their relationship cannot stand the strain, and both end up dying tragic deaths. This
story conflicts with the picture of their relationship reflected elsewhere in the
Talmud, where Resh Lakish frequently confronts Yohanan as an equal.
Clearly, the Talmud preserves contradictory views regarding the nature of
the relationship between Yohanan and Resh Lakish. Most likely, these con51. Baba Kamma 84a. See Dikdukei Sopherim n. shin.
52. See Yonah Fraenkel, Iyyunim ba-Olamo ha-Ruhani shel Sippur ha-Agadah (Tel Aviv:
Ha-Kibbutz ha-Meuhad, 1981), pp. 74-77.

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tradictory views do not admit of reconciliation and are evidence of opposing
sources. 5
The Talmud's portrayal of the relationship between two important thirdgeneration amoraim, Rabbah and Ray Yosef, contains comparable incongruities. Throughout the Talmud, Ray Yosef is often portrayed as Rabbah's
junior contemporary, and on occasion as his subordinate and student.54In
several other contexts, the two appear as close and cooperative colleagues."
Clearly, these images are easily reconciliable. The image of Rav Yosef as
student or subordinate of Rabbah might derive from early in Yosef's career,
before he attained scholarly maturity, while the image of the two as cooperative colleagues might derive from later in his career, after he reached a
scholarly level which earned him consideration as Rabbah's colleague.
Some passages, however, reflect a different perspective on their relationship.
In one context, Rabbah and Yosef are described as candidates for the same
position of communal responsibility.56At issue here is who is the superior
scholar, whose method of learning is preferable. The Babylonian rabbis send
"there," to Palestine, for a decision, and word is sent back that Yosef is preferable. Yosef declines, however, out of humility or due to an astrological
prediction that he will rule for only two years and then die." Rabbah rules
in his stead, his tenure lasting twenty-two years, and Yosef rules after him.
According to this story, Yosef was the superior scholar, and it was his deci-

53. Compare Kimelman, "Rabbi Yohanan of Tiberias," pp. 20-23 and 127-131.
54. Eruvin 78a-b and 78b, and Kiddushin 58a.
55. Shabbat 119a, Eruvin 51a and 65b, Moed Katan 27b, Yevamot66b, Baba Mezia 70a,
Hullin 46a, and Bekhorot 31a. See also Moed Katan 25b, Ketubot 106a, and Sanhedrin 17b.
56. Berakhot 64a. The traditional understanding of this story is that Rabbah and Rav Yosef
were candidates for the office of head of the academy, but that understanding has been seriously called into question by recent scholarship. See David Goodblatt, Rabbinic Instruction in
Sasanian Babylonia (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1975), especially pp. 1-59 and 263-285; and "Hitpathuyot Hadashot be-Heker Yeshivot Bavel," Zion 43 (1978): 14-38. Compare Yeshayahu
Gafni, YahadutBavel u-Mosdoteha bi-Tekufat ha-Talmud(Jerusalem: Merkaz Zalman Shazar,
1976), pp. 79-104; "'Yeshiva' u-'Metivta'" Zion 43 (1978): 12-37: "He'arot le-Ma'amaro shel
D. Goodblatt," Zion 46 (1981): 52-56; "Ha-Yeshiva ha-Bavlit le-Or Sugyat B.K. 117a," Tarbiz 49 (1980): 292-301; and "Hiburim Nestorianim ke-Makor le-Toldot Yeshivot Bavel,"
Tarbiz 51 (1982): 567-576. Compare also Moshe Beer, Rashut ha-Golah be-Bavel bi-Yemei
ha-Mishna ve-ha-Talmud(Tel Aviv: Dvir, 1976), pp. 100-103.
57. See Dikdukei Sopherim, n. yud, on Berakhot 64a, and see Horayot 14a.

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sion to delay assumption of a position that was rightfully his."8This story is
not easily reconciled with the picture we find elsewhere of his scholarly
status vis-a-vis Rabbah. This story is most likely an attempt on the part of
sages who favor Yosef to explain why Rabbah was chosen to rule ahead of
Yosef. This happened not because Rabbah was the superior scholar, these
disciples or editors claim; on the contrary, Yosef was superior, and it was his
decision to delay the appointment."9The Talmud thus preserves contradictory views regarding the relative scholarly merits of Rabbah and Yosef
which most likely derive from diverse sources.
At this point in the discussion, we begin to focus again on Abaye and
Rava, fourth-generation amoraim whose relationship was examined in
detail in the opening sections of this paper. Rava's claim in two contexts60
that Rabbah and Yosef were unable to resolve a certain difficulty over a
period of twenty-two years, and that only when Yosef became head was the
matter resolved, is a clear echo of the story described above. Rava is clearly
alluding to the twenty-two years that Rabbah ruled and suggesting that
only when the appropriate person came into power could the matter be
satisfactorily resolved. Rava, or whoever placed these sentiments into
Rava's mouth, shares the view that Yosef was greater than Rabbah. It is
understandable that Rava would hold such an opinion (or that such an
opinion would be attributed to Rava), since he was a student of Yosef but
not of Rabbah.
The famous story of the death of Rabbah bar Nahmani, the thirdgeneration amora discussed above,6' clearly derives from circles friendly to
Rabbah.62 Rabbah dies, according to this story, because God and the
58. Ray Yosef's concern about the astrological prediction perhaps strikes us as superstitious, but it would have seemed the height of rationality to many of the rabbis of the Talmud.
See, however, Pesahim 113b. Ray Yosef's denial of responsibility perhaps strikes us as less than
heroic, unbefitting a man called upon to play a critical role in the leadership of his people. To
the rabbis, however, Rav Yosefs actions were not in the slightest cause for criticism. Talmudic
rabbis went to great lengths to delay entrance to the world-to-come, and frequently went to
great lengths to avoid public office, giving themselves more time for Torah study.
59. Compare Mordechai Yudelowitz, YeshivatPumbedita bi- Yemeiha-Amoraim (Tel-Aviv,
1935), pp. 21-22.
60. Ketubot 42b and Baba Kamma 66b.
61. Baba Mezia 86a.
62. See Baruch M. Bokser, "Rabbah bar Nahmani," in Encyclopedia of Religion, vol. 12, p.
181.

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scholars in heaven are deadlocked over an issue of ritual purity, and Rabbah's vote is necessary to decide the question. It was concluded above that
several talmudic passages reflect the view that Yosef was superior to Rabbah. If this is the case, then the story of Rabbah's death provides further
support for the claim that the Talmud contains a variety of contradictory
sources. It is difficult to imagine that people who transmitted stories whose
major point is Yosef's superiority to Rabbah also transmitted a story which
views Rabbah as a figure of cosmic importance.63Furthermore, Abaye and
"all of the rabbis" attend to Rabbah after his death,64but Yosef is nowhere
to be found. As Rabbah's colleague and successor in Pumbedita, his absence
from the story is striking. According to some versions, in fact,65 the story
serves to legitimate Abaye, and not Yosef, as Rabbah's successor in Pumbedita. According to these versions, a message descends from heaven and
falls upon the head of Abaye, designating him, and not Yosef, as Rabbah's
successor. Very likely, whoever told the story of Rabbah's death disagrees
with the view expressed earlier that Yosef was greater than Rabbah.66The
Talmud preserves contradictory views regarding the scholarly status of
Rabbah and Yosef which most likely derive from diverse sources.
The relationship between Rava and Yosef also yields evidence of opposing viewpoints contained within our sources. I discussed above two statements attributed to Rava which reflect the view that Yosef was the greatest
scholar of his generation. Several stories suggest that Yosef, and/or some of
his students or later editors, did not return the compliment, that they had
serious reservations about Rava's character. In a story reminiscent of the
Talmud's account of Rav's initial meeting with Shmuel (see above), Rav
Dimi MiNehardea comes to Mahoza to sell some produce.67Rava tells his
disciple, Rav Ada bar Ahava, to test Rav Dimi's learning, using the same
expression used by Shmuel when he sends Karna to test Rav. At the request
of the exilarch, Rava wants to find out if Rav Dimi deserves a market privi63. Note, however, that on Moed Katan 28a, Rava is portrayed as speaking highly of Rabbah. Compare Ketubot 42b and Baba Kamma 66b.
64. Rava's presence there is almost certainly a scribal error, as Rabbinovicz in Dikdukei
Sopherim, n. dalet, already observed.
65. See Dikdukei Sopherim, n. bet, and Yeshayahu Gafni, "'Yeshiva' u-'Metivta,'" p. 25, n.
64.
66. We must be wary, however, about placing too much weight on an argument from
silence.
67. Baba Batra 22a.

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lege granted to sages. Dimi is unable to answer the question posed to him,
whereupon Ada bar Ahava makes an insulting gesture toward him and
refers to himself as the teacher of Dimi, and to Rava as "the teacher of your
teacher." Dimi is not granted the special market privilege, and his produce
spoils. Dimi goes before Yosef to complain, and Yosef assures him that just
as God did not delay punishment on behalf of the king of Edom, so he will
not delay in punishing those who wronged Rav Dimi.68This story most likely derives from sources hostile to Rava, sources which have an interest in
portraying him in an unattractive light and in showing poor relations
between Rava and his teacher, Rav Yosef.
In another story critical of Rava, Rava sends a halakhic question to
Yosef.69Yosef sends back a reply, and Rava issues a clarification, explaining that Yosef misunderstood his question. Yosef takes offense, complaining
that Rava fails to show him proper respect. "If he doesn't need us," asks
Yosef, "why does he send questions to us?" Rava learns that Yosef is offended and goes to him personally to make amends. Rava mixes Yosef's cup, like
a student before his master, showing him that he, Rava, still considers himself to be Yosef's student. Yosef then quotes a series of biblical verses and
asks Rava to explain them, like a teacher examining his student. Rava willingly plays the role of a student in order to mollify his insulted teacher, interpreting the scripture quoted by Yosef as a warning against the evil of too
much pride. By interpreting scripture in this manner, Rava in effect confesses his sin and accepts the blame for offending his teacher.70
Yosef thus plays a prominent role in several stories critical of Rava.
These stories provide an interesting contrast to several cases in which Rava
is presented as reporting his interaction with Yosef, or quoting statements
by Yosef, and providing no hint of any tension between them.7"Also inter68. The text goes on to say that Rav Ada bar Ahava died, suggesting that Rav Yosefs
words were directed against Rav Ada bar Ahava rather than Rava. However, it is clear that the
teacher, Rava, who sent his student to test a fellow sage and who no doubt made the final decision to deny Rav Dimi market privileges, is also responsible. Furthermore, the sentence
informing us of Rav Ada bar Ahava's death very likely does not end the previous story but
rather begins the following section. Accordingly, the text provides no indication that Rava is
not the object of Rav Yosefs wrath.
69. Nedarim 55a. The long narrative on Nedarim 55a might be a combination of two stories,
one of which is also found on Eruvin 54b.
70. For other stories involving Rav Yosef in which Rava is criticized, see Hullin 133a and
the discussion of Ketubot 63a, below.
71. Ketubot 42b and 43a (twice), and Hullin 133a.

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esting is the fact that most or possibly all of the stories involving Yosef
whicharecriticalof Ravatake placewhileRavais no longerYosef'sdisciple
in Pumbedita.Verylikely,these storiesreflectthe view of sageswho viewed
with great disfavor Rava's decision to move to a new locality and assert
independenceof his master.Verylikely,they unfavorablycontrastedRava
with Abaye,who makesbriefappearancesin most of thesestories.72Unlike
Rava, Abaye remainedin Pumbeditahis entirelife, a loyal disciplefirst of
Rabbah and later of Yosef. The Talmud preservescontradictoryviews
regardingthe characterof Rava and his relationshipto Rav Yosef which
most likely derive from diversesources.
Support for this interpretationmight be found in another narrative
which describes Rava's interactionwith Rav Yosef.73According to this
story, Ravais in the habitof makingan extravagantgestureof humilityand
submissionto Rav Yosef wheneverhe leaves Yosef'spresence.Yosef hears
about it and says to Rava:"Mayit be [God's]will that your headbe elevated over the entire town." Yosefs blessing,when viewed in the context of
Rava'sentirecareer,is perhapsdeliberatelyironic.The transmittersof this
story know full well that Rava neverruledin Pumbedita.Perhapsthe story
intends to contrast Rava's behavior while still a student, winning his
master'sfavorand deservingof his blessing,with his behaviorafterhe broke
with Yosefand movedto Mahoza.Perhapsthe implicationis that Rava,had
he wished,could havestayedin Pumbeditaand ruledthe entirecity, thereby
avoiding a painful break with his master.
The claimthat storiesabout Ravareachedthe Talmudfrommorethan a
single source is borne out by one passage of Palestinianorigin.74In this
passage, Rava's statementis introducedby the following formula:"They
said in the west [Palestine]that R. Yosi bar Hama and R. Zera, and some
say Rava b. d'Rav Yosef bar Hama and R. Zera, said the following. . ."
Rava'sstatement,also found in the Yerushalmi,is uniquein that it reached
the BabylonianTalmudvia Palestine,as the statement'sintroductionmakes
clear ("They said in the west .. .").75Confirmation of this claim is provided
72. Nedarim 55a, Baba Batra 22a, and Hullin 133a.
73. Yoma 53a-b.
74. Bezah 8b. See Yisrael Francus, Talmud YerushalmiMassekhet Bezah im Perush Ehad
ha-Kadmonim Rabenu Elazar Azkari Ba'al Sefer Haredim (New York: Jewish Theological
Seminary, 1967), p. 40, n. 100.
75. Yer. Bezah 1:3. See Francus, op. cit., and Ephraim Urbach, Ha-Halacha, Mekoroteha
ve-Hitpathutah (Yad la-Talmud, 1984), p. 214, who claim that this is the only statement by
Rava preserved in the Yerushalmi.

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by the designation of Rava as Rava b. d'Rav Yosef bar Hama.76 In Palestine, it was not enough to refer to Rava as the author of a statement, for the
name "Rava" there would more likely refer to one of several amoraim
named R. Abba. In Palestine, it was necessary to identify him as Rava son of
Ray Yosef b. d'Rav Hama.77Elsewhere in the Babylonian Talmud, Rava is
referred to in this manner only in stories where some narrative purpose is
filled by doing so. For example, if Rava is still a youth when the story is taking place, or if another rabbi wishes to humble or belittle him, Rava will be
referred to as "the son of Rav Yosef b. d'Rav Hama.""78
Only in this one
context, where the tradition comes to Babylonia via Palestine, is Rava
referredto by his father's name even though no narrative purpose is served.
This fact clearly aids us in identifying the Palestinian role in formulating the
tradition, and supports my contention that traditions regarding Rava
reached the Talmud from more than a single source.
Very likely, Rava's appellation in another narrative aids us in detecting
the presence of a hostile source. In this narrative, "the father of Rav Yosef b.
d'Rava" sends his son to study with Rav Yosef, stipulating that the son stay
away for six years.79The story is clearly critical of Rava for making excessive demands of his son, demands which lead to family strife when the son
comes home ahead of schedule, unable to meet his father's expectations."8It
is peculiar that Rava, one of the towering figures in the Babylonian Talmud,
should be referredto as "the father of Rav Yosef b. d'Rava." By referringto
Rava in this manner, the narrator shifts attention away from the father and
onto his son, as if the actions of Rav Yosef b. d'Rava, an obscure amora
who seldom appears in the Talmud,8' are of greater interest than the actions
of the father. By referring to Rava in this manner, the narrator creates the
impression that the son is the story's protagonist and the father part of the
supporting cast. Once again, the name by which Rava is designated aids us
in detecting the presence of a hostile source.
Perhaps we find evidence that not everyone in Babylonia considered

76. Other talmudic rabbis are referred to in more than one way, which some scholars have
taken as evidence of diverse sources. See, for example, David Halivni, Mekorot u-Mesorot.
Shabbat (Jerusalem: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1982), p. 94, n. 2, for a discussion of the
names R. Shimon and R. Shimon ben Yohai, and Rabbi and R. Yehuda ha-Nasi.
77. In the Yerushalmi (see above, n. 75), he is referred to as R. Abba bar Yosef.
78. See Eruvin 54a, Yevamot 122a, Nedarim 55a, and Hullin 43b and 77a.
79. Ketubot 63a.
80. See Fraenkel, lyyunim ba-Olamo ha-Ruhani shel Sippur ha-Aggadah, pp. 99-115.
81. See Kosowsky, Ozar ha-Shemot, pp. 877-878.

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Rava to be the dominant scholar of his generation in a passage which
describes the students who study year-round in the houses of important
rabbis.82According to this passage, the number of disciples studying with
the dominant scholars in every generation steadily decreases as we move
later in the amoraic period. More disciples studied with Rav than with Ray
Huna, and more studied with Rav Huna than with Rabbah and Ray
Yosef.83"When the rabbis left the house of Abaye," the text continues, "and
some say the house of Rav Papa, and some say the house of Rav Ashi, two
hundred rabbis remained, and they called themselves orphans of orphans."84
Most versions make no reference to Rava,85and it is quite possible that the
omission is intentional. Perhaps whoever excluded Rava's name did not
view him as worthy of inclusion alongside the other amoraim mentioned on
the list. Perhaps this passage provides further evidence that stories about
amoraim reflect a variety of perspectives and reached the Talmud from more
than a single source.
Stories which emphasize Abaye's deficiencies as judge and halakhic decisor, and which contrast Abaye unfavorably with Rava, were alluded to
above."86These stories suggest strongly that some of the Talmud's sources
were composed and transmitted by sages who wished to portray Abaye in an
unfavorable light.87 I emphasize the phrase some of the Talmud'ssources,
however, since the bulk of the Talmud's sources display no such animus
toward Abaye. One illustration of this claim is provided by the relatively
polite way in which Rava's objections against Abaye are phrased through-

82. Ketubot 106a. Gafni, "Hiburim Nestorianim ke-Makor le-Toldot Yeshivot Bavel," pp.
574-575, notes that Christian sources preserve a strikingly similar account of the gradual
decline of the Nestorian academy at Nisibis (Nezivin).
83. Note the coupling of Rabbah and Rav Yosef, creating the impression that they presided
over a single, unified house of study. See the discussion above.
84. Goodblatt, Rabbinic Instruction in Sassanian Babylonia, pp. 56-57, basing himself on
the chronology of Rav Sherira Gaon, dates the core of this passage, the section dealing with
Rav, Rav Huna, and Rabbah and Rav Yosef, to the middle third of the fourth century. Goodblatt views the concluding section as an attempt by students of Abaye, Rav Papa, and Rav Ashi
to update the tradition so that mention would be made of their own teachers, whom they considered to be the greatest scholars of their generation.
85. Dikdukei Sopherim ha-Shalem, ed. Herschler, nn. on line 17, and n. 38. Note that a
genizah fragment records Rava's name but not Abaye's. Note also that all versions omit reference to Shmuel, and see the discussion above.
86. Yevamot122a (see Dikdukei Sopherim, n. yud, on Hullin 77a), Baba Batra 22a, Makkot
6a, and Hullin 77a.
87. Compare Yudelowitz, YeshivatPumbedita, p. 41.

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out the Talmud. Nothing in Rava's reactions to Abaye compares to the
harsh language used on several occasions by Shmuel in rejecting the

opinions of Rav, for example, or by Rav in rejectingthe opinions of
Shmuel.88Significantly, a single individual, Rav Ada bar Ahava, is associated with many of the sources hostile to Abaye. Judging from the evidence of
the Talmud, Ada bar Ahava was a zealous disciple of Rava who had an
extremely low opinion of Abaye. Most of Ada bar Ahava's contemporaries,
according to the talmudic portrait, did not share this opinion.89 They did
not share the same intense desire to portray Abaye as Rava's inferior.
It would be premature to conclude from the stories examined above that
the Talmud grants little or no direct access to the statements of Rava and
Abaye, Rabbah and Rav Yosef, Resh Lakish and R. Yohanan, and Rav and

Shmuel,but rathercontainscollectionsof opposingversionsof theirstatements transmitted with polemical intent by their disciples. It cannot yet be
concluded that we have little besides tendentious accounts formulated by
students or later editors. I say this because all of the evidence for polemical
distortion examined above is found in the context of stories. Very likely, the
authors and transmitters of talmudic stories, both halakhic and aggadic,
often had free rein to engage in "creative historiography,"90to distort or

88. Shabbat 53a, Eruvin78a, Moed Katan 12b, Ketubot77a, Kiddushin44b, and Hullin I I lb.
89. See Berakhot 56a, according to which Abaye's students went on to become disciples of
Rava after the death of Abaye. Because of the miraculous elements contained in the story, and
because of its obvious character as propaganda (serving to legitimate Rava as successor to
Abaye), it is difficult to evaluate this narrative as history. Nevertheless, the evidence of the
Talmud supports Bar Hedia's claim that "Abaye will die and his metivta will go to you
[Rava]." That is, most of Abaye's students went on to become students of Rava. Throughout
tractates Berakhot, Pesahim, Bezah, Ketubot, Nedarim, Baba Mezia, Baba Batra, and Makkot,
we find the following amoraim active as Abaye's students: Abba bar Marta, Rav Ada bar
Matna, Rav Aha bar Manyumi, Rav Idi bar Abin, Rav Huna b. d'Rav Yehoshua, Rav Huna b.
d'Rav Moshe bar Azrei, Rav Zevid, Rav Hiyya b. d'Rav Huna, Rav Hinena b. d'Rav Ika, Rav
Tavyumi, Rav Yemar bar Shelamya, Rav Yaakov bar Abba, Rav Kahana, Rav Menashya bar
G'da, Rav Mari b. d'Bat Shmuel, Rav Nihumi bar Zecharya, Rav Papa, Rav bar Rav Hanan,
Rava bar Sharshom, Rav Rehumi, Rav Sheravya, and possibly Rav Avya. Of these students,
all were also students of Rava with the exception of Abba bar Marta, Rav Idi bar Abin (but see
Moed Katan 16a), Rav Menashya bar G'da, Rav Nihumi bar Zecharya, Rava bar Sharshom,
and possibly Rav Aha bar Manyumi (however, see Nedarim 47b). I doubt that these students
were disciples of both amoraim at the same time, for such students would have constituted a
living link of communication between the schools of Abaye and Rava, and the Talmud preserves no evidence of such a link.
90. See Yizhak Heinemann, Darkhei ha-Aggadah (Jerusalem: Masada, 1949/50), pp. 4-7
and 15-95.

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RICHARD KALMIN

invent facts to serve the purposesof their narrativeand the moral or religious lessonthey wishedto draw.The transmittersof halakhicstatementsin
a strictlyacademicsetting,by contrast,may have workedundermorerigid
constraints.9'They may have been more limitedwith regardto the types of
additionsthey could make to the sourcesat their disposal.92
To reiterate,we haveexaminedthe Talmud'sportrayalof severalrabbis
who flourishedbetweenthe first and the fourth amoraicgenerations,most
notably Rav and Shmuel, R. Yohanan, Resh Lakish, and R. Elazarben
Pedat, Rabbah and Rav Yosef, and Abaye and Rava. It was repeatedly
found that talmudicaccountsof theircharactersand personalitiesand the
nature of their interactionscontain contradictionswhich betray the existence of opposing sources. Accordingly,severalimportantaspects of the
historyof the amoraicperiodneed to be reevaluated,since historianshave
tended to accept talmudic stories as reliable evidence without critically
evaluatingthe role of authors,tradents,andlatereditorsin coloring,distorting, and even fabricatingstories about the amoraim.
JewishTheological
Seminary
New York,N.Y.

91. See Albert I. Baumgarten, "Rabbi Judah I and His Opponents," Journalfor the Study
ofJudaism 12, no. 2 (1981): 141-142, and the literature cited in n. 28 there.
92. The work of David Halivni, Shama Friedman, and others in separating the additions of
the anonymous editors from amoraic legal dicta may contradict this suggestion. See David
Halivni, Mekorot u-Mesorot: Nashim and Mekorot u-Mesorot: Yoma-Hagigah (Jerusalem:
Jewish Theological Seminary, 1975); Mekorot u-Mesorot: Shabbat; and Mekorot u-Mesorot:
Eruvin-Pesahim(Jerusalem: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1982); and Shama Friedman, Perek
ha-Isha Rabbah ba-Bavli (Jerusalem: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1978). However, we will
not be in a position to fully appreciate the work of the anonymous editors in altering their
amoraic sources until the discrete analyses of individual sugyot have been systematically
analyzed and the full range of anonymous editorial activity catalogued and described. See
Kalmin, Redaction of the Babylonian Talmud,pp. 66-94, for a systematic analysis of the anonymous editorial commentary based on statements by the latest amoraim mentioned in the
Talmud.

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Note
Bibliographical
A comprehensivebibliographyon the crucialsubjectof the use of talmudic stories as evidencefor historyand biographycannot be providedin
the context of the present paper. See, however, Bacher, Die Agada der
BabylonischenAmoraer,pp. 34 and 114-115, who reconcilesconflicting
talmudicaccountsof the interactionbetweenRay and Shmueland between
Abaye and Rava by claimingthat each of these relationshipswas a peculiar
combination of closeness, collegiality, and intense competition. See also
Moshe D. Herr, "The Historical Significanceof the Dialogues Between
Jewish Sages and Roman Dignitaries,"and Shmuel Safrai, "Tales of the
Sages in the PalestinianTraditionand the BabylonianTalmud,"Scripta
Hierosolymitana22 (1971): 209-232. Safrai acknowledgesdifferencesin
variousversionsof aggadot,but they are "two accountsof the same event"
(p. 210). Safraiassumesthat "generally,too, the namesof the Sages ... are
not confusedin these narrativeshandeddown by tradition,nor arethe relations betweenthem inconsistentwith respectto the times"(ibid.). See also
Graetz, Geschichteder Juden, vol. 4, pp. 258, 266-267, and 329-331;
Urbach, Ha-Halacha,pp. 192-216; Joshua Schwartz,"TensionBetween
PalestinianScholarsand BabylonianOlim in Amoraic Palestine,"Journal
for the Study of Judaism 11 (1980): 78-94; and Yoel Florsheim, "HaYahasim bein Hakhmei ha-Dor ha-Sheni shel Amoraei Bavel," Zion
(1986):285-293. Florsheimassumesthat talmudicnarrativescan be combined together to form coherent biographies.Contradictorysources are
explainedas derivingfrom differentperiodswithin an amora'slife.
Jacob Neusner, by contrast,arguesconvincinglythat at times the contradictions do not admit of reconciliation.See, for example, Neusner,
Historyof theJewsinBabylonia,vol. 3, pp. 50-94, and vol. 4, pp. 73-82 and
85-124, and TheRabbinicTraditionsAboutthe PhariseesBefore70 (Leiden:
E. J. Brill, 1979), especially pp. 184-341. See also Baruch M. Bokser,
"Wonder-Workingand the RabbinicTradition:The Case of Hanina ben
Dosa," Journalfor the Study of Judaism16, no. 1 (1985):42-92, and the
referencescited on p. 43, n. 2. See also Gafni, "HiburimNestorianim,"pp.
574-575, who analyzes stories about Babylonian rabbis and discovers
motifs also presentin Nestorianliterature.Gafni arguesthat theseparallels
"do not necessarilyattest to contact" betweenthe two communities,but
might be motifs absorbedindependentlyinto the two literatures.At least
some of the biographicalinformationpreservedin the Talmudconcerning

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RICHARD KALMIN

Babylonian amoraim, therefore, cannot be accepted at face value as historical fact. See also Daniel Sperber, "On the Unfortunate Adventures of
Rav Kahana: A Passage of Saboraic Polemic from Sasanian Persia," in
Irano-Judaica, ed. Shaul Shaked (Jerusalem: Ben-Zvi Institute, 1982), pp.
83-100. Sperber argues persuasively that the story is a pro-Babylonian
polemic and cannot be accepted as evidence for conditions in Palestine during the time of R. Yohanan. Compare Gafni, "Ha-Yeshiva he-Bavlit la-Or
Sugyat B.K. 117a," pp. 292-301. See also Fraenkel, Iyyunim ba-Olamo
ha-Ruhani shel Sippur ha-Agadah. On p. 8, Fraenkel writes that he is not
interested in the ancient rabbinic stories for the historical and biographical
information they contain, but rather as sources for the rabbis' answers to
eternal human questions. Whether or not such and such really happened to
Hillel or R. Akiba is, for the purposes of Fraenkel's study, irrelevant. See
also Fraenkel, "Bible Verses Quoted in Tales of the Sages," Scripta Hierosolymitana 22 (1971): 89, n. 23, who writes: "It must be stated that in principle one should not rely on parallels in a literary analysis of talmudic
stories, but look for the intrinsic unity in every story. That is also why the
general image of a sage can differ from one story to the next, which is natural if different narrators told the stories, and there is no need for any artificial
harmonization." See also Anthony J. Saldarini, "The Adoption of a Dissident: Akabya ben Mahalaleel in Rabbinic Tradition," Journal of Jewish
Studies 33 (1982): 547-556. Saldarini observes that the story of Akabya's
excommunication in Mishnah Eduyot 5:6-7 fits the purposes of the editors
of the Mishnah. Whatever historical kernel may be contained within the
story, he concludes, is unrecoverable. See also William Scott Green,
"What's in a Name? The Problematic of Rabbinic 'Biography,"' in
Approaches to Ancient Judaism. Theory and Practice, ed. William Scott
Green (Chico, Calif.: Scholars Press, 1978), pp. 77-94; "Context and Meaning in Rabbinic 'Biography,'" in Approaches to Ancient Judaism: VolumeII,
ed. William Scott Green (Chico, Calif.: Scholars Press, 1980), pp. 97-111;
and "Storytelling and Holy Man: The Case of Ancient Judaism," in Take
Judaismfor Example, ed. Jacob Neusner (Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 1983), pp. 29-43. See also Baumgarten, "Rabbi Judah I and His
Opponents," pp. 135-172. See also Zipporah Kagan, "Divergent Tendencies
and Their Literary Moulding in the Aggadah," Scripta Hierosolymitana 22
(1971): 151-170. Kagan finds that the versions of the story of the early years
of R. Eliezer ben Hyrcanus' life divide into two groups. One group is
"earlier and more authentic. The Aggadah in Group A was told close to the

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time when the events took place and for that reason it preserved a more
realistic view of the figures, the plot, and numerous details. The Aggadah in
Group B ... was composed at a later time than the historical event" (p.
168). Finally, see Richard Kalmin, "The Talmudic Story: Aggadah as History," Proceedings of the Tenth World Congress of Jewish Studies (forthcoming).

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