THE REAL MESSIAH BLOG: Rory response to Steve Mason (part 3)

Rory response to Steve Mason (part 3)

By Rory Boid (personal correspondence)

Dear Prof. Mason,

I agree with you entirely on the need for sound method when putting a hypothesis forward. What you say on this subject is self-evidently correct.

I had not intended to give the impression that I was arguing from a specific passage in a Rabbinic text while not saying what the passage was, but on looking back at what I typed I can see why you might have thought that. My actual concern had been with the standard handbooks, and this is what I meant when I spoke of ignoring evidence or even not knowing some evidence. It is a matter of common knowledge that the Rabbinic texts overall know of only one Agrippa, as you say. My point was that this fact is not stated in the handbooks. In this respect, the handbooks mislead any reader that is not a specialist. A random example is the “New Schürer” edited by Vermes and Millar. I know this is not recent, but for the present purpose that does not matter. My concern was not to assert that the Rabbinic view is correct. I leave it to others more familiar with the issues to weigh the evidence.

If you will pardon my saying so, my second concern was with the statement that the Rabbinic texts are the result of oral transmission, and therefore not valid historical sources. (I paraphrase and condense). That was why I sent the data on the various forms of the mechanism of transmission.

You are of course correct in saying or implying that that any given passage or pericope that mentions King Agrippa without further qualification is no proof that there was only one, or even necessarily proof of the opinion that there was only one. You correctly made the same observation in connection with the various historians that mention Agrippa. It is quite true that there would not usually be any explicit specification of which one was meant.

I had assumed you would know the locus classicus for there being only one Agrippa, the Seder ‘Olam Rabba, ad loc. Ratner gives some parallels in his notes. Some of these are independent and are of the same date. This book is as close to the events as most of the historians. The book is by a single person, the Tanna Yose ben Ḥalafta, and would have been composed about 150 AD. The fact that this book is cited as an authority on various matters by the Amora’im indicates that it was generally considered reliable from the time of its composition. This does not prove it is right about Agrippa, but it is not to be ignored.

But all this takes away us from the essential point expressed by you clearly and in detail, the requirement of careful examination of all data and rigorous argument.

I am very pleased to have made contact with you. I don’t suppose we will ever meet, unfortunately. The time that you have put into this correspondence is appreciated.

Just to give some personal information. You referred to me as a Rabbinic scholar. That is half true. I originally trained as a Semitic scholar in the broadest sense. There was a time when my academic lecturing and teaching was almost entirely concerned with the Rabbinic texts and mediaeval Hebrew literature. That phase of my career ended in 1989, with the publication of my book Principles of Samaritan Halachah (published in Leiden, like most of my work over the years). The Samaritan halachah and its theory are obviously the focus, but the book builds on an expert knowledge, acquired over very many years of hard work, of both the Rabbinic and the Karaite halachah as well as the body of theory behind both systems. That was then and that is over. Harassment for political motives made it impossible to continue, but I was not sorry to be out. Since then I have been able to pursue my main interest, the recovery of undeciphered or unrecognised Samaritan texts, or texts that have baffled scholars for various reasons. Many of these are Arabic translations of older documents in Aramaic or Greek, now lost. (Two articles on Arabic documents are in the press at the moment). Some are halachah, some are history, some are accounts of sects and movements.

With very best wishes (and with thanks),

Ruairidh Bóid

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