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The University of Southampton

HIST6089 The History of the Jews in Babylonia

Module Overview

The aims of this module are to: • To provide an introduction to the Babylonian Talmud . • To provide a general background to the formation, structure, content and context of the Babylonian Talmud. • To gain the basic tools to access this formidable document in the study of Jewish history and culture in a critical manner. • To Read a selection of texts from the Babylonian Talmud

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • Of the literary history of the Babylonian Talmud.
  • The critical approach to the reading of the Babylonian Talmud
  • The structure of the Babylonian Talmud.
  • The general content of the Babylonian Talmud.
  • The inner logic and way of thinking of the literature of the Babylonian Talmud.
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Work critically with complex primary sources.
  • To use a specialised secondary sources to access complex primary sources.
  • To synthesize extensive amounts of reading materials into a concise form for the purpose of presentation.
  • To make presentations.
  • To write essays that are based on a combination of research on primary and secondary materials and original thought.
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Access complex literary material from the formative rabbinic period.
  • To deconstruct rabbinic literary and intellectual forms of thought.
  • To access a wide variety of primary and secondary material that relates to the formative period of rabbinic Judaism.
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Critically read textual material from the Babylonian Talmud.
  • To have an understanding of the patterns of thinking of the authors and editors of the Babylonian Talmud.
  • To be able to deconstruct a rabbinic text from the Babylonian Talmud.
  • To have a knowledge of the hermeneutical principles that are used in the Babylonian Talmud.
  • To be able to view the Babylonian Talmud as an historical document.


• General introduction and a brief history of the Jews in Babylonia. • The place and context of the Talmud within Jewish literary creation, a historical perspective. • The Talmud, the consolidation of rabbinic Judaism. • A general survey of the structure and contents of the Talmud. • A page of Talmud - literary structure, commentary through the ages, MSS variants. • Rabbinic hermeneutics. • The Talmud as an historic document. • Magic in the Talmud. • Medicine in the Talmud. • A choice of readings from the Babylonian Talmud.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include • Provision of reading lists divided into categories for each of the sessions. • An introduction lecture. • Critical reading of primary sources in class with discussion. • Advice on essay topics. Learning activities include • Reading of primary and secondary source materials. • Preparation and delivery of presentations. • Essay writing.

Independent Study126
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Urbach E., The Sages, Their Concepts and Beliefs, 1979.. 

Epstein I. (ed.), The Babylonian Talmud in English, with Introductions, Translation and Commentary, vol.s I- XXXVI, 1935 - 53. (One of three English translations of the Talmud. The other two are the Schottenstein and Steinzaltz editions which the library is in the process of acquiring. Consult at least one of these editions for the references to the text of the Babylonian Talmud, which you will encounter regularly in your prescribed reading.). 

Steinsaltz A., The Essential Talmud, 1976. (Recommend to purchase). 

Trattner Ernest R., Understanding the Talmud, 1955. (Another general introduction which can be consulted for extra information and comparison.). 

Stemberger S., Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash, 1996. (Recommend to purchase. The older edition that is in the library is by Strack.). 

Bader Gershom, The Jewish spiritual heroes the lives and works of the Rabbinical teachers from the beginning of the "Great Synagogue" to the final completion of the Talmud: Seven centuries of Jewish thought, 1941.. 

Encyclopedia Judaica, 1972. (A very good general reference with lengthy articles and surveys on most topics. Consult regularly on all topics throughout the course). 

Chernick Michael, Essential Papers on the Talmud, 1994. (This book is a collection of articles by leading scholars which include a wide variety of issues that are relevant to our course.). 

Kolatch Alfred J., Who’s who in the Talmud, 1964. (It is good for is figuring out ‘who’s who’.). 

Wright Dudley, The Talmud, London, 1932. (A good, but old, general introduction to the Talmud. The chapters in this volume are: 1. What is the Talmud?; 2. How the Talmud came to be Written; 3. The Tannaim, or Founders of the Mishna; 4. The Palestinian Talmud; 5. The Amoraim of the Palestinian Talmud; 6. The Babylonian Talmud; 6. the Amoraim of the Babylonian Talmud; 7. The Burnings of the Talmud. Consult relevant chapters as needed.). 

Cohen A., Everyman's Talmud, 1975. (Recommend to purchase). 

Shachter Jacob, The Student’s Guide Through the Talmud, 1952. (Another introduction, this book is more technical. Worth consulting for particular issues.). 


Assessment Strategy

Assessments designed to provide informal, on-module feedback • Student presentations. • Student preparation of critical analyses of primary sources. • Group discussion. The suggested reading lists will furnish the student with a knowledge of the background of the Babylonian Talmud, its general content as well as a basic working bibliography of secondary sources for future study. Seminars and reading of the primary source in translation will provide the provisional analytical tools necessary for a critical approach in any attempt at an understanding of the structure, method and content of the ancient text itself. A piece of written work will challenge the student to combine skills and knowledge acquired during the course, so as to exhibit their grasp of the material and the particular research methodology which is needed to deal with the Babylonian Talmud.


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (5000 words) 100%


MethodPercentage contribution
Coursework 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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