A d F o n t e s

(Latin: "to the sources")

…And Neusner Responds.

image One of the most common rumors about Jacob Neusner–quite possibly the most prolific scholar ever in any discipline–is that his graduate students do the lion’s share of his work, and that the reason he has published over 600 books is that most are recycled anyway.  Until now, I’ve only ever heard one scholar come to Neusner’s defense on this this charge:  once a student in Seth Schwartz’s survey course on ancient Judaism laid it, and Schwartz said said it was untrue. 

This rumor was once again reitterated concerning Neusner’s latest translation of a Bavli tractate (Bava Batra) over on Biblicalia. Yet here in the comments Neusner himself defends–and it’s pretty amusing.  He lists what he translates and delineates it from where he received aid from students.  Check it out. 

For my own part, I’ve generally been a Neusner supporter.  The man really is brilliant.  Sometimes I’ve wished he’d slow down because it would improve his work.  But the man has to be credited for making such a large volume of rabbinic literature accessible in English.  His method of breaking down the Bavli into dialog format, I think, was a great idea.  Anyone who’s studied it before for the first time knows how difficult it can be to figure out when a discussion begins, ends, and where speakers change from one to another.  Having it broken down in English is a real help.  It’s better than Soncino.  And all this aside from starting a major revolution in rabbinic studies in his work on the Mishnah. 

February 17, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized


  1. For what it’s worth, an April 13, 2005, article in the “New York Times” entitled “Scholar of Judaism, Professional Provocateur” by Dinitia Smith states that Neusner claims to have written 924 books.

    I haven’t counted them!

    Comment by learnfrenchwiththebible | February 17, 2008 | Reply

  2. Hah! There’s really no point in counting, is there.

    Comment by JD | February 17, 2008 | Reply

  3. I have his Vita, now. It’s 52 pages long, that being mostly books. I’m not going to count them, though. Where’s the fun in that? It’s easily over 500, at a glance, though.

    Anyone familiar with his style of writing will recognize that he simply leaves nothing to chance, writing in detail, for example, through a series of several volumes describing his excercises in working out a methodology to investigate the theology of the Oral Torah. And that’s before getting to writing the theology itself! In that sense, what he’s providing everyone with is a complete record of his train of thought, and an ongoing history of his scholarship. Every volume I’ve yet seen of his lays out his philosophical framework, the assumptions, etc, so that the reader knows them exactly. Others would do well to emulate this.

    I think the scurrilous accusations of misattribution and so on are often based in jealousy. As you say, he’s brilliant, and like many other brilliant people I know, not averse to letting others know that he is. Presumption, sloppy thinking, and poor scholarship will be called on the carpet, and rightly so. This rubs some the wrong way, of course. Toughskies.

    Nice picture, too!

    Comment by Kevin P. Edgecomb | February 17, 2008 | Reply

  4. Actually, I think it’s time that this slander against Neusner be exposed. I’ve heard it made too many times without a shred of evidence offered (other than his amazing output).

    Looking at the descriptions of the positions Neusner has held the past twenty years, I don’t see any indication that he has supervised many graduate students. If these had done the work credited to Neusner (while taking classes and writing their dissertations), THEIR output would be utterly astounding. (

    BTW, I have also spoken with a well-known former student of Neusner who totally denies this accusation.)

    Comment by Carl Kinbar | February 17, 2008 | Reply

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