Thursday, September 20, 2007

Maturity of Magic Studies

For a while now, I've been thinking about how different academic disciplines have reached different stages of maturity, based on the number of scholars that have been pursuing them intensively. My feeling, which causes me frustration, is that the field of post-Talmudic rabbinics still has a long way to go. The result is that studies in the field are either heavily focused on primary source material - describing manuscripts, sorting out the bio-bibliographies, publishing sources - or are more theoretical but lack proper grounding in the sources. Obviously, training is also an important part of that. But yesterday I saw the term "pre-paradigmatic" applied to the philosophy of Halakhah, and I think that term is helpful. It will take more time, more cumulative study and reflection, to develop a helpful vocabulary that accurately reflects medieval halakhic material without shoehorning it into either Talmudic or medieval Christian terminology.

It's not just about terminology and theory, though. The level of precision that can be applied to the manuscripts themselves is also cumulative. If I'm describing a medieval manuscript that has never been published or even properly catalogued and dated, and if I am interested in its literary structure and content, there is a limit to the amount of attention I can pay to things like glosses and marginal decorations, scribal idiosyncracies and dialects.

So I was impressed to find that, in Matthew Morgenstern's recent article on JBA (Jewish Babylonian Aramaic) in magic bowls, he makes extensive use of scribal errors. The kind of thing that editors focused on publishing new material tend to overlook - words that the scribe began writing, but then stopped midway because he realized he made a mistake, and then wrote afresh. Morgenstern reads these self-corrections as a sound-bite of the scribe's own pronunciation.

My thought is simply that the increasing proliferation of published magic bowls, including at least two recent books, allows for a higher level of textual scholarship. Yet another reason why it is important to publish rabbinic texts from manuscript, and why that job should not be left solely in the hands of amateurs. The more texts are published, the more scholars will be able to focus on reading them carefully.

If this post is too rambling, put it down to lack of sleep.


Blogger DafKesher said...

But are these really "magic studies"? Isn't this more Aramaic linguistics?

9:52 PM  

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