Starting Out

18 Oct 2011

This blog describes my progress on an born-digital critical edition of the Mishnah. For the various audiences who might read this, let me break out the terms and discuss them further.

  • Born-digital: An edition that uses or develops technology to record, store, present, search, analyze, and study textual material, rather than a static presentation of my research.
  • Critical edition: An edition that attempts to deal seriously with the state of a text, typically based on comparison of manuscripts. There is substantial debate about what text the edition is trying to recover (original? at some moment?), and whether this is even possible, and scholars of rabbinic texts have generally chosen one print or manuscript witness as a base “copy text” rather than a reconstructed text.
  • Mishnah: A legal text produced about 200 AD/CE. Still studied today in Jewish religious circles of all kinds, the text is the basis of the Talmuds (there is both a Palestinian and a Babylonian Talmud), and is of enormous historical significance as well.

The text is preserved in manuscripts the very earliest perhaps from the ninth or tenth centuries but most later, and was first printed in 1492 in Naples. There are several substantial manuscripts including the whole text or large blocks of it, but there are also fragmentary manuscripts of one or a few leaves from the Cairo Genizah, a cache of documents from Egypt, mostly from the tenth to the thirteenth centuries. These are among the earliest manuscripts. The textual transmission is also preserved in citations from the Talmud, and in citations of medieval scholars in their legal or commentary works.

I have recently begun as a faculty fellow at MITH, the Maryland Center for Technology and the Humanities, to develop a pilot edition using a single chapter, Bava Metsi’a Chapter 2, dealing with lost objects. To date, I have (with the assistance of students!) encoded several witnesses using the TEI encoding protocol, and developed some XSLT style sheets to display the results in HTML. I am now working with the good people at MITH to develop an ODD, and work on a pilot webservice to test the project, while continuing to work on transcriptions. Some sample texts are viewable at

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