"The Geonim of Babylonia and the Shaping of Medieval Jewish Culture" by Robert Brody

The Geonim of Babylonia and the Shaping of Medieval Jewish Culture Robert Brody

Publication date:
09 Apr 2013
Yale University Press
416 pages: 235 x 156 x 24mm
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The Geonic period from about the late sixth to mid-eleventh centuries is of crucial importance in the history of Judaism. The Geonim, for whom this era is named, were the heads of the ancient talmudic academies of Babylonia. They gained ascendancy over the older Palestinian center of Judaism and were recognized as the leading religious and spiritual authorities by most of the world’s Jewish population. The Geonim and their circles enshrined the Babylonian Talmud as the central canonical work of rabbinic literature and the leading guide to religious practice, and it was a predominantly Babylonian version of Judaism that was transplanted to newer centers of Judaism in North Africa and Europe. Robert Brody’s book—the first survey in English of the Geonic period in almost a century—focuses on the cultural milieu of the Geonim and on their intellectual and literary creativity.

Brody describes the cultural spheres in which the Geonim were active and the historical and cultural settings within which they functioned. He emphasizes the challenges presented by other Jewish institutions and individuals, ranging from those within the Babylonian Jewish setting—especially the political leadership represented by the Exilarch—to the competing Palestinian Jewish center and to sectarian movements and freethinkers who rejected rabbinic authority altogether. He also describes the variety of ways in which the development of Geonic tradition was affected by the surrounding non-Jewish cultures, both Muslim and Christian.

Robert Brody is professor of Talmud at Hebrew University, Jerusalem, and a leading authority on Talmudic and Geonic literature.

"This book offers a superb introduction to the study of the Geonic period, long-awaited especially in the Anglo-phone world. . . . Brody’s book . . . provides an important survey of the current status of scholarship concerning the Geonim. . . . For students both of rabbinic literature and post-rabbinic Jewish culture this book will be indispensable."—Charlotte Fonrobert, Hebrew Studies

"This detailed and clearly written book is an invaluable window onto a period of Jewish history that has remained largely unknown to all but a handful of specialists. . . . The Geonim of Babylonia is a valuable and much needed introduction to the literature of the geonic period. Its readers will come away with an appreciation of the major works of the period, as well as a solid grasp of the principal areas of scholarly debate. Brody has an important book that is both accessible to the non-specialist and informative for scholars in the field."—Arnold Franklin, International Journal of Middle East Studies