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Confusion of the Babels: Multilingualism and Translation in Ancient Judaism with Steven D. Fraade

May 14 @ 4:00 pm - 5:00 pm
Royce Hall 306, 10745 Dickson Court
Los Angeles, California 90095
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The Center for the Study of Religion invites you to a talk by Steven D. Fraade on Tuesday, May 14 from 4:00–5:00 pm in Royce 306. While the usual rendering and  understanding of the Tower of Babel narrative (Gen 11:1–9) presumes the existence of one unified divine and human language (usually Hebrew, but with other candidates) between Eden and Babel, an alternative narrative imagines there having already existed a totality of ‘seventy” languages from the beginning, and only at Babel having been “dispersed,” “confused,” or should we say, “babbled”?  We will explore the basis for this confusion in Scripture and its translations, Second Temple texts, early rabbinic teachings, and, by extension, into early Christianity and Islam.  What are the implications of this alternative understanding for the status of Hebrew as a distinctly “Jewish” yet universal language, and for the conception of language(s) and translation(s) more broadly, culminating in the seminal article by Walter Benjamin, “The Task of the Translator”?

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Steven D. Fraade, Mark Taper Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies and the History of Judaism at Yale University. Until his retirement in 2022, Steven Fraade taught for forty-three years courses on rabbinic literature, the history of Second Temple and early rabbinic Judaism, and the Dead Sea Scrolls. He regularly offered seminars on midrashic, mishnaic, and talmudic texts, and topics in ancient Jewish history. His research interests include the history of Judaism (in its varieties) in Second Temple and early rabbinic times; biblical translation and exegesis in ancient Judaism and Christianity; the history and rhetoric of ancient Jewish law; the Dead Sea Scrolls; literary-rhetorical analysis of tannaitic and amoraic rabbinic texts; attitudes towards ascetic piety in early Judaism; and multilingualism in ancient Jewish culture.


Center for the Study of Religion


Royce Hall 306
10745 Dickson Court
Los Angeles, California 90095
+ Google Map