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“The debate between Abbaye and Rava in b. Ber. 29a about the way to interpret the tradition regarding the ruler Yohanan the High Priest who departed from the truth and became a heretic late in life should be another reminder of how little was known about the identity of disputants in later eras”

The debate between Abbaye and Rava in b. Ber. 29a about the way to interpret the tradition regarding the ruler Yohanan the High Priest who departed from the truth and became a heretic late in life should be another reminder of how little was known about the identity of disputants in later eras. According to Abbaye, Yohanan and Yannai were one and the same; according to Rava, they were different. In what sense is that sameness or difference intended? Were Abbaye and Rava disagreeing concerning the moral or religious status of Yohanan and Yannai, or should their remarks be understood in some other sense? In light of the difficulties many ancients had keeping the personalities of the past apart and the tendency to merge these dimly known characters, which we considered at the outset of this paper, Abbaye and Rava’s discussion fits best as a disagreement concerning identity. As such, it conforms perfectly to the low level of our expectations of accurate historical knowledge discussed above.

Albert I. Baumgarten, “Rabbinic Literature as a Source for the History of Jewish Sectarianism in the Second Temple”, Dead Sea Discoveries, Vol. 2, No. 1 (April 1995), 30.