Friday, March 12, 2010

"How much more" as an indicator of Jewish convention

When I started this series, we began by looking at the roots of the a fortiori ("how much more") style of argument in Jewish culture. We looked at instances in the Torah and other Old Testament writings, in Jesus' teachings, and in other New Testament writings. Then for a few posts we looked at how it can help shed new light on Biblical interpretation. It is especially useful when we remember that it's likely that the people who wrote the New Testament (excepting probably Luke) intended for their writings to be interpreted using this method and were accustomed to this style of interpretation being the norm.

I'm on my way to a larger point, but the smaller supporting point of this post is that particular form of logic was common, authoritative, and well-accepted in Jewish culture. The case in point here is the Talmud.

I searched the Talmud for the phrase "how much more" and found 481 instances of that phrase. Roughly 50 of those were in footnotes which don't count, but that still leaves well over 400 instances of this style of argument in the Talmud. By any measure, that's a substantive reason to believe that this logical technique was held in high regard.

How far back was it used? Well, of the results in the Talmud, 18 of them were in the more ancient Mishnah section. (I was surprised -- pleasantly -- to see that "If God is so grieved over the blood of the wicked that is shed, how much more so over the blood of the righteous!" was already in use back as far as the days of the Mishnah, Sanhedrin 46a.) The Mishnah is after the ministry of Christ, but not greatly.

The prevalence of this argument style in the Talmud -- and in the Mishnah -- show that this argument style was well-accepted in Jewish culture during the early centuries of the Christian era.

No comments: