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I do so, so that those not familiar with Selden will have an idea of his background and accomplishments. In , Parliament, under the initiative of Coke and supported by Selden, took up whether or not the sovereign had the right to grant patents, thereby raising the question of the judicial authority of Parliament to evaluate their validity.
Thus, the problem turned on the scope of parliamentary privileges in contrast to royal prerogative. Although, as already suggested, Selden had an important parliamentary career, he, like one of the founders of the Selden Society in , Frederic Maitland, was primarily a historian of law. As one would expect, Selden wrote widely on the history of English law, and he did so with penetrating insights, many of which have stood the test of time. One, thus, would expect Selden to have continued his study and publication of works in English law and history while imprisoned in the Tower of London.
But he did not. But he did not ask for these books to be brought to him. The question can no longer be put off. What did Selden study while imprisoned in the Tower of London? The answer to our question is: the Babylonian Talmud. Now, a different question arises: Why did he do so? Selden does state in the Prolegomena to his first work on Jewish law, De Successionibus in Bona Defuncti , on the inheritance of personal property, that if one relies on the writings of the Church Fathers, one will never understand Jewish law as set out in the Bible.
There must have been other reasons. The immediate and, as we shall see, superficial answer to the question why Selden chose to study the Talmud has already been given: Selden knew that one can not understand properly the New Testament without knowledge of the Mishnah the compilation of the development of Jewish law , and Talmud.
By understanding properly the New Testament, I do not refer merely to such matters as the long-held suspicion that John the Baptist was an Essene—the Essenes being the community within late second-Temple Judaisms likely responsible for writing the Dead Sea Scrolls; rather it is a matter of properly understanding the very text of the New Testament. I provide here only one, straightforward example in support of the long recognized merit of this statement. The answer really is quite obvious: Mt. Olivet was no more than 2, cubits from Jerusalem.
It also has nothing whatsoever to do with those metaphorical or allegorical interpretations of the Old Testament that are common enough in the inter-testamental and pseudepigraphical literature and New Testament. It does, however, have something to do with the developing laws of the Pharisees that determined the proper behavior in accord with the rest commanded to be observed on the Sabbath.
Today, it is a commonplace that a proper understanding of the New Testament requires familiarity with the Mishnah and Talmud. It has been a commonplace for more than half a century, certainly since the work of W. Davies and E. Elie Wiesel. Jonathan Sacks Haggada Essays. Michael Goldfarb. Paul Socken. The Sages. The Jewish Jesus. Zev Garber.
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Studies in Talmud and Midrash Collection (2 vols.)
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