The field of rabbinics is peopled by two types of scholars—literary scholars and historians. Literary scholars produce scholarship on small quantities of text read very closely and squeezed with various methodologies to maximize the potential meanings of each word, sentence or section. Historians produce scholarship on large quantities of text read from a distance but with an eye toward the big questions of social, political, and intellectual life. The dichotomy is necessarily heuristic; literary scholars often must examine large quantities of text and are increasingly drawn to higher stakes questions while today’s rabbinic historians are often fully trained in the entire literary toolbox and read their primary texts quite closely.
Barry Wimpfheimer, “A Biography or a Hagiography?” a review of Aaron Hughes’ Jacob Neusner: An American Jewish Iconoclast, Religious Studies Review, vol. 44, no. 1 (March 2018), 75.