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Erecting the Fence

Texts, Contexts, Theories, and Strategies

This short book seeks to explore the ways in which we can learn something about the relationship between literature and reality in Late Antique Jewish culture by reading the texts that we call Rabbinic literature, the Talmud and the Midrash. The discussion will evolve specifically in terms of narratives told in Hebrew and Aramaic, mostly in the Galilee, some time between the years 150 and 500 C.E.

These stories are short and concise, and they are embedded in discursive contexts that often emphasize non-narrative concerns such as Bible exegesis and juridical deliberation. The reason they have stimulated generations of traditional interpretation and scholarly research is, I believe, their capacity to present themselves continually as forceful and condensed signs for multiple concerns and areas of experience and expression. The same seductive complexity of these apparently simple texts opens them for study from various vantage points and theoretical outlooks. It also assures us that no one analytical procedure will exhaust all their meanings.

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