The MišnÄh (“Repetition”) purports to record the oral law that Mošeh received together with the written TorÄh on Mt. Sinai. Though some of the doctrines preserved in the MišnÄh are no doubt ancient, evidence internal to the text suggests that in its final form the material does not actually go back further than the 1st century BCE. Rather, the outlook, precepts, and opinions that make up the book took shape gradually over the next three hundred years until—according to tradition—YÇhudÄh ha- NÄsiÊ¾, writing in the Roman province of Judaea, produced the definitive redaction of the MišnÄh around 200 CE. According to the Talmud, YÇhudÄh ha-NÄsiÊ¾ received his education not only in Hebrew, but also in Greek, which allowed him to become the chief intermediary between Roman authority and Jews as a subject people. Highly revered in Rome, YÇhudÄh —so the tractate aAbodÄh ZÄrÄh—had particularly close ties with "Antoninus, the Caesar of Rome", possibly the emperor Antoninus Pius, who is said to have consulted YÇhudÄh on various matters, worldly as well as spiritual.
Given that the MišnÄh was written by Jews for Jews, the long history of scholarship on the book has tended to view the work—whatever the influence of Hellenism—almost exclusively as part of a development internal to Israelite religion.
For modern scholars, it figures principally as a bridge between the Hebrew Bible, whose canon received closure around 150 BCE, and the two Talmudim(ca. 500 CE), which place the MišnÄh literally at their core. Written, however, in the wake of the Bar KokbaÊ¾ rebellion (132 – 136 CE), the MišnÄh also clearly constitutes a response to the fact of Roman imperialism and the relatively brutal colonization of Judea, in particular the destruction of the Second Temple (70 CE). The paper will, therefore, attempt not only to assess the extent to which the MišnÄh constitutes a “colonial” text, but also to discover in what ways it relates both to other encyclopaedic projects around the Mediterranean of this period (Roman, Greek, Egyptian), and to Imperial literature in general. Or to put this another way: what is it that the MišnÄh, the Aeneid, Pausanias, and the temple inscriptions at Esna share?