Socrates & the Fat Rabbis

Socrates & the Fat Rabbis

Daniel Boyarin

Print publication date: 2013

ISBN: 9780226069166

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Abstract

What kind of literature is the Talmud? To answer this question, the book looks to an unlikely source: the dialogues of Plato. In these ancient texts it finds similarities, both in their combination of various genres and topics and in their dialogic structure. But the book goes beyond these structural similarities, arguing also for a cultural relationship. It suggests that both the Platonic and the talmudic dialogues are not dialogic at all. Using Michael Bakhtin's notion of represented dialogue and real dialogism, the book demonstrates, through multiple close readings, that the give-and-take in these texts is actually much closer to a monologue in spirit. At the same time, it shows that there is a dialogism in both texts on a deeper structural level between a voice of philosophical or religious dead seriousness and a voice from within that mocks that very high solemnity at the same time. The book ultimately singles out Menippean satire as the most important genre through which to understand both the Talmud and Plato, emphasizing their seriocomic peculiarity.