The Mishnah

I know the Mishnah is considered to be the written form of the oral Jewish Tradition, but, sometimes I wonder. Not all of it is oral tradition. Some of it is actually just commentary on the Bible. So I wonder, how can you tell which parts of the Mishnah are tradition and which aren’t? Is there a guide of some sort, or do you have to go to a Rabbi? And how do you know the Rabbi is correct?

From the late esteemed biblical scholar Raymond E. Brown:

"…one must be careful about employing in Gospel interpretation other material in the Mishna e.g., the description of how the Passover seder is to be celebrated and the interpretation of what constitutes blasphemy. What took place in AD 70 changed many details in such issues; and the Mishna represents an idealized 2d century outlook

The Mishna is a written codification in Hebrew of Jewish oral law under the editorship of Rabbi Judah the Prince made ca. AD 200; the term means ‘second’ indicating that it was placed alongside the (first) Law preserved in the Pentateuch. Although it attributes its materials to about 150 teachers living between 50 BC and AD 200, in dealing with issues critical to Jewish living it is a literary response to the influence of the Roman occupation on the situation of the Jews, especially after AD 70. Many of its rules are idealistic, e.g. provisions for the Temple and its maintenance long after the Temple was destroyed.

The Tosefta is another collection of laws and comments, usually dated to the 3d or 4th century AD. In a sense it is a complement to the Mishna, arranged the same way; yet some of the traditions vary and may be older. There are two lengthy Aramaic commentaries on the Mishna: the Palestinian Talmud (completed in the 5th century) and the Babylonian Talmud (6th century) - extraordinarily rich compilations of minute legal discussions, traditions, stories."

The first definite statement of dogma in the whole of Judaism, in the Mishna, deals with this: “All Israel share in the world to come except the one who says resurrection has no origin in the Law.

Another different emphasis is provided by Paul Johnson History of the Jews: “…the basic body of written Jewish law, and the books of the prophets, psalms, the canonization of which [was] completed under Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai, between 70 and 132 AD…The next layer or stage was the sorting out and writing of the Oral Law, which had been accumulating for centuries. This was a practice termed Mishnah, meaning to repeat or study, since it was originally memorized and recapitulated. Gradually over many generations, these interpretations, rulings, and illustrations found written form. After the Bar Kokhba revolt, and culminating in the work of Rabbi Judah Ha-Nasi and his school at the end of the second century A.D., the material was edited into a book called the Mishnah, the epitome of repetition.”

I believe the great Roman destructions of Judea in the 1rs and 2nd centuries AD make it truly difficult to answer your question as to how much of Mishna is actual tradition and how much, in Brown’s words is “an idealized 2nd century outlook” of what Jewish tradition was.

Don’t know how much of this helps, (and I am not Jewish), but I was just reading a book on the dangers in New Testament exegesis of looking to the Mishna rabbis of 200 A.D. as a mirror image of the Pharisees and what they preached. This is not the case argues Raymond Brown. Since much of the Mishna was committed to writing after the main New Testament books had been written, one should be quite careful in using the Mishna to explain what the Pharisees of Jesus’ time were like. :slight_smile:

Thanks :slight_smile: Yes, I don’t look to the Mishnah to know what the Pharisees thought and taught. The fact that it includes stories about Jesus tells me it was written long after He lived on Earth.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.