James Adam Redfield is Assistant Professor of Biblical and Talmudic Literatures at Saint Louis University and a Fellow in Cornell University's Society for the Humanities and Program in Jewish Studies (2018-19). He earned his PhD from Stanford in Religious Studies (2017). His primary research areas are rabbinic literature and the history of anthropology and ethnography; he has published articles in these fields and others and is currently writing a short book about the Talmudic text that will be the subject of his talk.
This talk explores a unique narrative cycle in the Babylonian Talmud, featuring strange creatures and the sundry adventures of third- and fourth-century Babylonian rabbis. It uses this cycle, and its substantial but non-linear overlaps with Hellenistic paradoxography, romance, and other literary forms, as a point of departure for rethinking the Hellenization of Babylonian Jews in late antiquity. This rethinking is guided as much by observations about the co-evolution of those literary traditions as by debate in the history of anthropology about the transmission and reinvention of culture per se, and suggests that this bifocal perspective on "Hellenization" is necessary rather than merely useful if the term is to have any historiographical utility.