Jacob Neusner

Jacob Neusner

Discussion
Ask a question about 'Jacob Neusner'
Start a new discussion about 'Jacob Neusner'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Encyclopedia
Jacob Neusner is an American academic scholar of Judaism
Judaism
Judaism ) is the "religion, philosophy, and way of life" of the Jewish people...

 who lives in Rhinebeck
Rhinebeck (town), New York
Rhinebeck is a town in Dutchess County, New York, United States. The population was 7,548 at the 2010 census.The Town of Rhinebeck in the northwest part of Dutchess County in the Hudson Valley. Rhinebeck is also the name of a village in the town. US Route 9 passes through the town...

, New York.

Biography


Born in Hartford, Connecticut
Connecticut
Connecticut is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States. It is bordered by Rhode Island to the east, Massachusetts to the north, and the state of New York to the west and the south .Connecticut is named for the Connecticut River, the major U.S. river that approximately...

, Neusner was educated at Harvard University
Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...

, the Jewish Theological Seminary of America
Jewish Theological Seminary of America
The Jewish Theological Seminary of America is one of the academic and spiritual centers of Conservative Judaism, and a major center for academic scholarship in Jewish studies.JTS operates five schools: Albert A...

 (where he received rabbinic ordination), the University of Oxford
University of Oxford
The University of Oxford is a university located in Oxford, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest surviving university in the world and the oldest in the English-speaking world. Although its exact date of foundation is unclear, there is evidence of teaching as far back as 1096...

, and Columbia University
Columbia University
Columbia University in the City of New York is a private, Ivy League university in Manhattan, New York City. Columbia is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York, the fifth oldest in the United States, and one of the country's nine Colonial Colleges founded before the...

.

Neusner is often celebrated as one of the most published authors in history (he has written or edited more than 950 books.)
Since 1994, he has taught at Bard College
Bard College
Bard College, founded in 1860 as "St. Stephen's College", is a small four-year liberal arts college located in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.-Location:...

. He has also taught at Columbia University
Columbia University
Columbia University in the City of New York is a private, Ivy League university in Manhattan, New York City. Columbia is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York, the fifth oldest in the United States, and one of the country's nine Colonial Colleges founded before the...

, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, Brandeis University
Brandeis University
Brandeis University is an American private research university with a liberal arts focus. It is located in the southwestern corner of Waltham, Massachusetts, nine miles west of Boston. The University has an enrollment of approximately 3,200 undergraduate and 2,100 graduate students. In 2011, it...

, Dartmouth College
Dartmouth College
Dartmouth College is a private, Ivy League university in Hanover, New Hampshire, United States. The institution comprises a liberal arts college, Dartmouth Medical School, Thayer School of Engineering, and the Tuck School of Business, as well as 19 graduate programs in the arts and sciences...

, Brown University
Brown University
Brown University is a private, Ivy League university located in Providence, Rhode Island, United States. Founded in 1764 prior to American independence from the British Empire as the College in the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations early in the reign of King George III ,...

, and the University of South Florida
University of South Florida
The University of South Florida, also known as USF, is a member institution of the State University System of Florida, one of the state's three flagship universities for public research, and is located in Tampa, Florida, USA...

.

Neusner is a member of the Institute for Advanced Study
Institute for Advanced Study
The Institute for Advanced Study, located in Princeton, New Jersey, United States, is an independent postgraduate center for theoretical research and intellectual inquiry. It was founded in 1930 by Abraham Flexner...

 in Princeton
Princeton, New Jersey
Princeton is a community located in Mercer County, New Jersey, United States. It is best known as the location of Princeton University, which has been sited in the community since 1756...

, and a life member of Clare Hall, Cambridge University. He is the only scholar to have served on both the National Endowment for the Humanities
National Endowment for the Humanities
The National Endowment for the Humanities is an independent federal agency of the United States established by the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act of 1965 dedicated to supporting research, education, preservation, and public programs in the humanities. The NEH is located at...

 and the National Endowment for the Arts
National Endowment for the Arts
The National Endowment for the Arts is an independent agency of the United States federal government that offers support and funding for projects exhibiting artistic excellence. It was created by an act of the U.S. Congress in 1965 as an independent agency of the federal government. Its current...

. He also has received scores of academic awards, honorific and otherwise.

Scholarship


Neusner's scholarly activity is vast. Generally, his research centers around rabbinic Judaism
Rabbinic Judaism
Rabbinic Judaism or Rabbinism has been the mainstream form of Judaism since the 6th century CE, after the codification of the Talmud...

 of the Mishnaic and Talmudic Eras. He was a pioneer in the application of "form criticism
Form criticism
Form criticism is a method of biblical criticism that classifies units of scripture by literary pattern and that attempts to trace each type to its period of oral transmission. Form criticism seeks to determine a unit's original form and the historical context of the literary tradition. Hermann...

" approach to Rabbinic texts. Much of Neusner's work has been to de-construct the prevailing approach viewing Rabbinic Judaism as a single religious movement within which the various Rabbinic texts were produced. In contrast, Neusner views each rabbinic document as an individual piece of evidence that can only shed light on the more local Judaisms of such specific document's place of origin and the specific Judaism of the author. His Judaism: The Evidence of the Mishnah (Chicago, 1981; translated into Hebrew and Italian) is the classic statement of his work and the first of many comparable volumes on the other documents of the rabbinic canon.

Neusner’s method of studying documents individually without contextualizing them with other Rabbinic documents of the same era or genre, led to a series of very important studies on the way Judaism creates categories of understanding and how those categories relate to one another, even as they emerge diversely in discrete rabbinic documents.

Neusner has translated into English nearly the entire Rabbinic canon. This work has opened up many Rabbinic documents to scholars of other fields unfamiliar with Hebrew and Aramaic. His translation technique utilizes a "Harvard-outline" format which attempts to make the argument flow of Rabbinic texts easier to understand for those unfamiliar with Talmudic reasoning.

Neusner's enterprise has been aimed at a humanistic and academic reading of classics
Classics
Classics is the branch of the Humanities comprising the languages, literature, philosophy, history, art, archaeology and other culture of the ancient Mediterranean world ; especially Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome during Classical Antiquity Classics (sometimes encompassing Classical Studies or...

 of Judaism. Neusner has been drawn from studying text to context. Treating a religion in its social setting, as something a group of people do together, rather than as a set of beliefs and opinions.

Theological works


In addition to his historical and textual works Neusner has also contributed to the area of Theology. He is the author of "Israel:" Judaism and its Social Metaphors and The Incarnation of God: The Character of Divinity in Formative Judaism.

Contributions to Academia


In addition to his scholarly activities, Neusner has been heavily involved in the shaping of Jewish and Religious Studies in the American University. He has sponsored a number of conferences and collaborative projects that drew different religions into conversation on common themes and problems. Neusner’s efforts have produced conferences and books on, among other topics, the problem of difference in religion, religion and society, religion and material culture, religion and economics, religion and altruism, and religion and tolerance. These collaborations build on Neusner’s intellectual vision, his notion of a religion as a system, and would not have happened otherwise. By working in the realm of Judaism and Jewish Religion, he developed methods and theories applicable to the study of Religion generally.

Neusner has written a number of works exploring the relationship of Judaism to other religions. His A Rabbi Talks with Jesus (Philadelphia, 1993; translated into German, Italian, and Swedish), attempts to establish a religiously sound framework for Judaic-Christian interchange
Christian-Jewish reconciliation
Reconciliation between Christianity and Judaism refers to the efforts that are being made to improve understanding of the Jewish people and of Judaism, to do away with Christian antisemitism and Jewish anti-Christian sentiment...

. It has earned the praise of Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Benedict XVI is the 265th and current Pope, by virtue of his office of Bishop of Rome, the Sovereign of the Vatican City State and the leader of the Catholic Church as well as the other 22 sui iuris Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with the Holy See...

 and the nickname "The Pope's Favorite Rabbi". In his book Jesus of Nazareth, Benedict refers to it as "by far the most important book for the Jewish-Christian dialogue in the last decade."

He also has collaborated with other scholars to produce comparisons of Judaism and Christianity, as in The Bible and Us: A Priest and A Rabbi Read Scripture Together (New York
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

 1990; translated into Spanish
Spanish language
Spanish , also known as Castilian , is a Romance language in the Ibero-Romance group that evolved from several languages and dialects in central-northern Iberia around the 9th century and gradually spread with the expansion of the Kingdom of Castile into central and southern Iberia during the...

 and Portuguese
Portuguese language
Portuguese is a Romance language that arose in the medieval Kingdom of Galicia, nowadays Galicia and Northern Portugal. The southern part of the Kingdom of Galicia became independent as the County of Portugal in 1095...

). He has collaborated with scholars of Islam
Islam
Islam . The most common are and .   : Arabic pronunciation varies regionally. The first vowel ranges from ~~. The second vowel ranges from ~~~...

, conceiving World Religions in America: An Introduction (fourth edition, Louisville
Louisville, Kentucky
Louisville is the largest city in the U.S. state of Kentucky, and the county seat of Jefferson County. Since 2003, the city's borders have been coterminous with those of the county because of a city-county merger. The city's population at the 2010 census was 741,096...

 2009), which explores how diverse religions have developed in the distinctive American context.

He also has composed numerous textbooks and general trade books on Judaism. The two best-known examples are The Way of Torah: An Introduction to Judaism (Belmont 2003); and Judaism: An Introduction (London
London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

 and New York
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

 2002; translated into Portuguese
Portuguese language
Portuguese is a Romance language that arose in the medieval Kingdom of Galicia, nowadays Galicia and Northern Portugal. The southern part of the Kingdom of Galicia became independent as the County of Portugal in 1095...

 and Japanese
Japanese language
is a language spoken by over 130 million people in Japan and in Japanese emigrant communities. It is a member of the Japonic language family, which has a number of proposed relationships with other languages, none of which has gained wide acceptance among historical linguists .Japanese is an...

).

Throughout his career, Neusner has established publication programs and series with various academic publishers. Through these series, through reference works that he conceived and edited, and through the conferences he has sponsored, Neusner has advanced the careers of dozens of younger scholars from across the globe. Few others in the American study of religion have had this kind of impact on students of so many approaches and interests.

Neusner has aimed to make Rabbinic literature useful to specialists in a variety of fields within the academic study of religion
Religion
Religion is a collection of cultural systems, belief systems, and worldviews that establishes symbols that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values. Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to...

, as well as in ancient history
Ancient history
Ancient history is the study of the written past from the beginning of recorded human history to the Early Middle Ages. The span of recorded history is roughly 5,000 years, with Cuneiform script, the oldest discovered form of coherent writing, from the protoliterate period around the 30th century BC...

, culture
Culture
Culture is a term that has many different inter-related meanings. For example, in 1952, Alfred Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn compiled a list of 164 definitions of "culture" in Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions...

 and Near
Near East
The Near East is a geographical term that covers different countries for geographers, archeologists, and historians, on the one hand, and for political scientists, economists, and journalists, on the other...

 and Middle Eastern Studies
Middle Eastern studies
Middle Eastern studies is a name given to a number of academic programs associated with the study of the history, culture, politics, economies, and geography of the Middle East, an area that is generally interpreted to cover a range of nations extending from North Africa in the west to the Chinese...

. His work has concerned the classic texts of Judaism
Judaism
Judaism ) is the "religion, philosophy, and way of life" of the Jewish people...

 and how they form a cogent statement of a religious system.

Critical assessment of Neusner's work


Although he is highly influential, Neusner has been criticized by scholars in his field of study. This summarizes the published studies that are critical of Neusner's work.
Some scholars are critical of Neusner's methodology, and assert that many of his arguments are circular or attempt to prove "negative assumptions" from a lack of evidence (e.g., Cohen, Evans, Maccoby
Hyam Maccoby
Hyam Maccoby was a British Jewish scholar and dramatist specializing in the study of the Jewish and Christian religious tradition. His grandfather and namesake was Rabbi Hyam Maccoby , better known as the "Kamenitzer Maggid," a passionate religious Zionist and advocate of vegetarianism and animal...

, Poirier, Sanders). Others are critical of Neusner's reading and interpretations of Rabbinic texts, finding that his account is forced and inaccurate (e.g., Cohen, Evans, Maccoby, Poirier and in detail, Zuesse).

One methodological and historical critique of Neusner is by E. P. Sanders
E. P. Sanders
Ed Parish Sanders is a New Testament scholar, and is one of the principal proponents of the New Perspective on Paul. He has been Arts and Sciences Professor of Religion at Duke University, North Carolina, since 1990. He retired in 2005....

. In his earliest work, Neusner had argued that the most credible evidence showed that the Second Commonwealth Pharisees were a sectarian group centered on "table fellowship" and ritual food purity practices, and less interested in wider Jewish values or social issues. Zeitlin and Maccoby challenged this account. Sanders proposed that many of Neusner's interpretations of Pharisaic discussions and rulings were questionable (e.g., Neusner concludes that 67% of the debates between Pharisaic "houses" dealt with ritual food purity; Sanders concludes that less than 1% do—see Sanders, p. 177).

Some scholars have questioned Neusner's grasp of Rabbinic Hebrew and Aramaic. Probably the most famous and biting criticism came from Saul Lieberman
Saul Lieberman
Saul Lieberman , also known as Rabbi Shaul Lieberman or The Gra"sh , was a rabbi and a scholar of Talmud...

.

Books by Jacob Neusner


A complete list of books by Professor Jacob Neusner may be found here:
  • Jacob Neusner bibliography
    Jacob Neusner bibliography
    This is a list of books by Professor Jacob Neusner as of early 2005. Articles, reviews, etc. are not included here.* A Life of Yohanan ben Zakkai. Leiden, 1962: Brill. Abraham Berliner Prize in Jewish History, Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1962. Second edition, completely revised, 1970.*...



Additional biographical source: Jacob Neusner. "From History to Religion." pp. 98–116 in The Craft of Religious Studies, edited by Jon R. Stone. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998.

External links