Comparative Talmud Research Beyond the Influence Paradigm

Activity: Talk or presentationInvited talk


This paper draws attention to the “influence paradigm” as the dominant explanatory model in the comparative study of history. The paradigm has been capable to shed light on the history and culture of isolated societies, but the assumption of influence based on insufficient evidence also poses a potential methodological pitfall. The methodological first part of the essay offers a critique of the “influence paradigm”. It explains the concept of the “null hypothesis” and argues that the dismissal of its historical version may result in unsubstantiated explanations in the comparative study of history. Based on the early work of Bernard Jackson, the essay presents a methodological framework for the comparative study of ancient legal cultures where the assumption of influence is only one of numerous explanatory models. The second part of the essay presents a comparative study of literary strategies which are used to establish legal terms in Justinian’s Institutes (533 CE) and the Talmud Yerushalmi (ca. mid-6th century CE). The “definition” and the “label” showcase the shift towards abstraction in late antique sources of Roman and Rabbinic law which is unlikely to have been caused by “influence”. Rather, the similarities of the literary strategies underline a universal anthropological constant of “scholastic” cultures while their differences shed light on what is truly peculiar and unique about Rabbinic and Roman law: the exegetical approach to the legal past and the orientation point of Rabbinic law constituted by divine will, and the conceptual approach to old law and foundation concepts of iustitia and aequitas in Roman law. The case-study demonstrates that comparative Talmud research can contribute to the reconstruction of the historical and cultural context even if the comparison parts with the “influence paradigm”.
Period27 Jun 2016
Event titleThe Talmud and Christianity: Rabbinic Judaism after Constantine
Event typeConference
LocationCambridge, United KingdomShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • Roman law
  • Rabbinic law
  • late antiquity