Considering Some Similarities Between Eastern Christian Schools and Babylonian Yeshivot

Already three decades ago, Isaiah Gafni noted the similarities between these Eastern Christian schools and the Babylonian Yeshivot.  Syriac Christians and Aramaic Rabbis shared terminology such as rav, metivta, siyyuma, and qam be-resh.  Both schools had a two-semester schedule such that students could go earn a living by working the field during the summer and winter harvest seasons.  Both communities maintained public lectures, called the pirka by the rabbis and ‘elltha by the Eastern Christians, and the office of the resh galuta had its parallel in the East Syrian Catholicos.  Many stories, interpretations, and ideas made their way from Christian sources into the Babylonian Talmud.

Most significantly, Adam Becker argues that both communities followed a scholastic program of study and systematic textual interpretation and held such study to be a transformative act of piety and devotion.  …Michael Swartz shows that the rabbis, especially in the BT, display many characteristics of scholasticism, including upholding the authority of tradition, contributing to that tradition through commentary, participation in dialectic, and reconciliation of disparate sources.

Richard Hidary, “The Agonistic Bavli: Greco-Roman Rhetoric in Sasanian Persia”, in Shoshannat Yaakov: Jewish and Iranian Studies in Honor of Yaakov Elman, ed. Shai Secunda & Steven Fine (Leiden & Boston: Brill, 2013), 142.