In light of the creative dimension of the Mishnah’s redaction and a critical refusal to accept on faith the reliability of attributions to Sages in the Mishnah, the Mishnah is sometimes excluded from historical studies of first- and second-century Palestine. this is a shame because even Jacob Neusner, the scholar most identified with a highly sceptical approach to attributions, argues that many mishnaic statements with attributions truly cite positions which stem from the generation of their attributed tanna. While Neusner believes that we cannot verify whether a sage actually said or held the position attributed to him (and therefore rabbinic biographies cannot be written), he believes that we can verify if an attribution stems from the generation to which it is attributed. After applying his verification method, Neusner concluded that many an attribution may be dated roughly to the generation of its attributed tanna, a find of great significance for historians. Furthermore, the existence of a great number of mishnaic statements whose early dating cannot be verified (by Neusner’s verification method or by source criticism) or falsified are probably reliably dates as well. Although we cannot test the reliability of the attributions in these materials, I believe that we still dealing with levels of certainty common in the study of ancient history. In short, despite the strong redaction of the Mishnah, the Mishnah should still remain an important source for the legal, social and intellectual history of the first two centuries of Roman Palestine.

Amram Tropper, “The State of Mishnah Studies,” Rabbinic Texts and the History of Late-Roman Palestine, ed. Martin Goodman & Philip Alexander (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 103-104.

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