ABSTRACT

The Mishnah, c. 200 CE, made up of sixty-three tractates (treatments of subjects), themselves divided into more than five hundred chapters, sets forth a code of law that expresses a system for the social order of holy Israel. The aim of the Mishnah is to show how all things are arrayed in a hierarchical system of sanctification. The Mishnah’s authors make their statement at two levels. On the surface, they give us information. Beneath the surface, they conduct a large-scale work of describing the rules of the world so as to show the orderly classifications of all things-their classifications and their order in the scale of being. That system shows how the everyday world is constructed along philosophical lines, for the sages of the Mishnah make their points by collecting and classifying data in the manner of natural history framed by Aristotle. They organize their rules in terms of the like and the unlike, appealing to the innate traits of things to do the work of classification. This is so as to accomplish the hierarchical classification of all things, showing how the many rise to the One, and how from the One the many emanate-issues central to the Middle Platonism of the age in which the Mishnah was written. But these matters are set forth in humble and concrete detail, everyday affairs being so set forth as to make the points that the framers wish to demonstrate.