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8 From Disagreement to Talmudic Discourse: Progymnasmata and the Evolution of a Rabbinic Genre

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Chapter Summary

The quintessential genre of Talmud is sugya, which in its basic form is a statement with a support, followed by a challenge a resolution of the challenge, another challenge, another resolution. The fact that debates existed has never been claimed to be unique to rabbinic literature, and indeed can be found in dispute poems from the Middle East as far back as ancient Sumeria. But that an author should introduce a law and then walk the audience through a series of challenges and resolutions has often been considered unique to rabbinic literature and particularly to the Bavli. This style can already be found in Midrash Halakhah and Yerushalmi, and is even found in Greek progymnasmata. By the time of the stam of Bavli another rule had been added to it: each redundancy or anomaly could teach one, and only one, law. This subtle change multiplied the complexity of Babylonian sugyot.

Keywords: ancient Sumeria; Babylonian sugyot; Greek progymnasmata; Midrash Halakhah; rabbinic literature; Talmud; Yerushalmi



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