Rebecca Wollenberg

History of Religions "'And they became the people of the Book': The Jewish Turn Towards Text in the Middle Ages"
2012

During my year at the Martin Marty Center, I will explore the theory that the modes of Jewish intellectual life changed radically when the codex (that is, the book form as we know it) became the dominant cultural medium in Jewish circles, in the 10th century C.E.. My preliminary research suggests that many of the intellectual changes we see in rabbinic culture during the 11th century (such as, the widespread flowering of a new literary genres and scholarly disciplines) were spurred in large measure by the move from parchment scroll books (and the extensive memorization which that unwieldy technology necessitated) to the use of paper codices. To cite a single example of this correlation, it would have been virtually impossible to produce the synthetic and systematic Jewish legal codes that began to appear in this period without the ability to selectively leaf through multiple volumes simultaneously in order to collate scattered references to a specific legal topic. Although this particular example is both practical and straightforward, other manifestations of the correlation are more complex, and thus more difficult to articulate. In the Martin Marty Center dissertation seminar, I will not only be challenged to more effectively articulate the patterns which I see in this material but I will also benefit immeasurably from having scholars less entrenched in this particular problem point out where I may have gone astray in my logic or underestimated the possibilities of a piece of evidence. I fully expect my year at the Martin Marty Center not only to help me complete my dissertation but to transform and refine my thinking on the project.