In sum, the strikingly agonistic nature of the BT derives not only from its oral setting, but also from the agonistic roots of Greco-Roman rhetoric as transmitted through the scholastic and rhetorical culture of the Syriac Christians. Narsai’s agonistic panegyric cited in the epigraph could easily describe many Babylonian amoraim. The BT’s use of classical rhetorical arrangement in its highly structured sugyot parallels similar usage by Narsai, Balai, and the anonymous author of Liber Graduum. The practice of arguing both sides of a dispute and creation of suspense are also well-established rhetorical techniques. The rabbis had a good sense for the art of public speaking. We cannot know whether the Babylonian amoraim inherited concepts of rhetoric from their Palestinian counterparts, how often the stammaim overheard Christian sermons, or to what extent Syriac writing style was, itself, a symptom of a larger Hellenistic atmosphere. Nevertheless, no matter how we reconstruct these lines of communication and cultural trends, it remains clear that the BT’s agonism and rhetorical style owes much of its character and form to Greco-Roman rhetorical oratory.
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), 163-164.