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a simple question: when were the mishnah, tosefta, and talmud written and how do we know?

regarding mishnah and tosefta: most sources say that the mishnah was compiled by the end of 2nd century CE (by R. Yehudah HaNasi), and that the tosefta was compiled a bit later, probably by end of 3rd century CE (https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/mishnah).

but how do we know this? are there handwritten manuscripts of these texts that can be dated to the 2nd or 3rd century CE? the earliest complete manuscript seems to be Kaufmann, which is dated to 10th or 11th century (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaufmann_Manuscript). if there are no earlier manuscripts from the 2nd or 3rd centuries, then how do we know that these texts were written in this period?

regarding talmud: most sources say the talmud was written over a period of several hundred years after mishnah and compiled around 500 CE (https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/first-complete-mishnah). however, the earliest printings of these books are from several centuries later (16th century), which again raises the question of: how do we know the talmud was definitively written between 200-500 CE, which is the usual range quoted in sources?

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  • Relevant Jul 12 at 18:45
  • What types of proof do you accept? The only one you've listed is physical evidence. There may be some, but the Jews generally take pride in their extremely high quality oral tradition transmission accuracy, which is highly evident of being very reliable about such matters, as well as something that we also relate to personally. This is our family story, our people's story, and it is told to us by our most venerated sages, who have all earned our absolute trust, and we know which sage communicated with which other sage, by name, in a tree that chains all the way back to Moshe.
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Jul 12 at 19:35
  • @RabbiKaii I am open to many proofs, my question is more about what is the proof/evidence given in this case for the 200 CE date? the mishnah itself does not say when it was written, to my knowledge. so if it's oral tradition, when was the first time this oral tradition was put into writing? ie what is the first written source of someone who was passed down orally the 200 CE date? I mentioned physical manuscripts because that's one compelling proof but again, the question is more "what is the evidence for the date" rather than whether we believe the evidence.
    – user99658
    Jul 12 at 19:44
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    You are using "written" and "compiled" interchangeably, as though they are the same thing. They are not the same thing, especially because we are talking about an oral tradition. Do you mean "written," or do you mean "compiled"? And also, the fact that you claim you are asking a "simple question" is dubious. Jul 13 at 3:16
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    Finally, let's take Homer for instance. He supposedly lived in the 8th Century BCE. But the earliest Homer fragments are from the 3rd Century BCE, and the oldest complete manuscript isn't until the 10th Century CE, 1700 years after he supposedly lived. What evidence would you accept regarding (a) whether there really was a "Homer"; (b) whether this Homer wrote the Odyssey; and (c) the date that Odyssey was originally composed? Jul 13 at 3:36

2 Answers 2

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As with many Jewish things, there is an argument on this subject. The Rambam and others basically point to the fact that it was written by Rebbe etc... Rabbi Issac Stein in his commentary on the Smag in the first few pages, at length talks about how it is impossible that it was written in the times of Rav Ashi. Rabbi Meir Trepitz writes here a thesis of when it was written: https://www.academia.edu/12639410/The_Emergence_of_the_Written_Text_of_the_Talmud

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Rambam in his introduction to his Mishneh Torah:

Rav composed the Sifra and the Sifre to explain the sources for the Mishnah. Rabbi Chiyya composed the Tosefta to explain the subjects [discussed in] the Mishnah. Rabbi Hoshaia and bar Kafra composed baraitot to explain the matters [discussed in] the Mishnah. Rabbi Yochanan composed the Jerusalem Talmud in Eretz Yisrael approximately three hundred years after the destruction of the Temple.

And

Rav Ashi composed the Babylonian Talmud in Shin'ar approximately one hundred years after Rabbi Yochanan composed the Jerusalem Talmud.

He then lists the generations between Moses and Rav Ashi:

Thus, there were forty generations from Rav Ashi back to Moses, our teacher, of blessed memory. They were:

  1. Rav Ashi [received the tradition] from Ravva.

  2. Ravva [received the tradition] from Rabbah.

  3. Rabbah [received the tradition] from Rav Huna.

  4. Rav Huna [received the tradi­tion] from Rabbi Yochanan, Rav, and Shemuel.

  5. Rabbi Yochanan, Rav, and She­muel [received the tradition] from Rabbenu Hakadosh.

  6. Rabbenu Hakadosh [received the tradition] from Rabbi Shimon, his father.

  7. Rabbi Shimon [received the tra­dition] from Rabban Gamliel, his father.

  8. Rabban Gamliel [received the tradition] from Rabban Shimon, his father.

  9. Rabban Shimon [received the tradition] from Rabban Gamliel, the elder, his father.

  10. Rabban Gamliel, the elder, [re­ceived the tradition] from Rabban Shimon, his father.

  11. Rabban Shimon [received the Tradition] from Hillel, his father, and Shammai.

  12. Hillel and Shammai [received the tradition] from Shemayah and Avtalion.

  13. Shemayah and Avtalion [re­ceived the tradition] from Yehudah and Shimon [ben Shatach].

  14. Yehudah and Shimon [received the tradition] from Yehoshua ben Perachiah and Nittai of Arbel.

  15. Yehoshua and Nittai [received the tradition] from Yosse ben Yo'ezer and Yosef ben Yochanan.

  16. Yosse ben Yo'ezer and Yosef ben Yochanan [received the tradi­tion] from Antignos.

  17. Antignos [received the tradi­tion] from Shimon the Just.

  18. Shimon the Just [received the tradition] from Ezra.

  19. Ezra [received the tradition] from Baruch.

  20. Baruch [received the tradition] from Jeremiah.

  21. Jeremiah [received the tradi­tion] from Tzefaniah.

  22. Tzefaniah [received the tradi­tion] from Chabbakuk.

  23. Chabbakuk [received the tradition] from Nachum.

  24. Nachum [received the tradition] from Yoel.

  25. Yoel [received the tradition] from Michah.

  26. Michah [received the tradition] from Isaiah.

  27. Isaiah [received the tradition] from Amos.

  28. Amos [received the tradition] from Hoshea.

  29. Hoshea [received the tradition] from Zechariah.

  30. Zechariah [received the tradition] from Yehoyada.

  31. Yehoyada [received the tradition] from Elisha.

  32. Elisha [received the tradition] from Elijah.

  33. Elijah [received the tradition] from Achiah.

  34. Achiah [received the tradition] from David.

  35. David [received the tradition] from Shemuel.

  36. Shemuel [received the tradition] from Eli.

  37. Eli [received the tradition] from Pinchas.

  38. Pinchas [received the tradition] from Joshua.

  39. Joshua [received the tradition] from Moses, our teacher.

  40. Moses, our teacher, [received the tradition] from the Almighty.

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  • this is interesting but internal to the text, not historical. it's like saying the Zohar was written in 100 CE because the book says it was written by R' Shimon Bar Yochai. my question assumes a critical, historical perspective on the origins of these texts. also, the Rambam's accounting is implausible if only for its assertion that single individuals wrote down the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud, respectively. it's clearly the work of more than one person that spanned many years. and saying it goes back to Moses as author of Torah is, again, not the historical perspective I'm looking for.
    – user99658
    Jul 13 at 2:08
  • @user99658 the Rambam does address the issues you just raised in the actual text, the above is just a summary
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Jul 13 at 14:25

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