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Indiana University Bloomington
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Jason Mokhtarian

Assistant Professor of Jewish Studies and Religious Studies; Biblical Hebrew Coordinator; Adjunct in History, Central Eurasian Studies, Ancient Studies, Islamic Studies, and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures

I am a historian of late antique Judaism with a specific interest in the Jews of Sasanian Persia. I received a M.A. in the History of Judaism from the University of Chicago Divinity School, and a M.A. in Ancient Iranian Studies and Ph.D. in Early and Late Antique Judaism from UCLA. My research focuses on the Talmud in its Iranian context, the Aramaic magical bowl spells from Sasanian Mesopotamia, the history of religions of the late antique East, and the political and cultural history of the Jews of Persia in the Second Temple and Talmudic periods.

My first book Rabbis, Sorcerers, Kings, and Priests: The Culture of the Talmud in Ancient Iran was published in 2015 by the University of California Press. By bringing into mutual fruition Talmudic studies and Iranology, the book examines the impact of the Persian-Sasanian context on the Babylonian Talmud, perhaps the most important corpus in the Jewish sacred canon. Whereas most research on the Talmud assumes that the rabbis were an insular group isolated from the cultural horizon outside their academies, this monograph contextualizes the rabbis and the Talmud within a broader sociocultural orbit by drawing from a wide range of sources from Sasanian Iran, including Middle Persian Zoroastrian literature, archaeological data such as seals and inscriptions, and the Aramaic magical bowl spells. The book also includes a detailed examination of the Talmud’s dozens of texts that portray three Persian “others”: the Persians, the Sasanian kings, and the Zoroastrian priests. In sum, the book is a synthetic study of late antique Jewry in its Persian context. Rabbis, Sorcerers, Kings, and Priests was recognized by the Jewish Book Council as a finalist for the National Jewish Book award in Scholarship.

I am currently working on a book project entitled “May there be Healing from Heaven”: An Intellectual History of Talmudic Medicine. Drawing from a variety of sources from Sasanian Iran, especially the Jewish Aramaic magical bowl spells, this book is a synthetic study of Talmudic medicine in its broader Sasanian context.

At Indiana University, I teach courses on the Hebrew Bible, rabbinic literature, religions of late antiquity, and Zoroastrianism.

Current C.V.

Rabbis, Socrcerers, Kings, and Priests (University of California Press, 2015);
Finalist, National Jewish Book Award in the scholarship category.

 

Education

  • Ph.D., Late Antique Judaism, UCLA, 2011
  • M.A., Ancient Iranian Studies, UCLA, 2007
  • M.A., History of Judaism, University of Chicago Divinity School, 2004
  • B.A./A.M., English and Religious Studies, University of Chicago, 2001

Research Interests

  • Late Antique Judaism
  • Rabbinic Literature
  • Talmud in its Iranian Context
  • History of the Jews of Persia
  • Aramaic Incantation Bowls
  • Sasanian History
  • Zoroastrianism
  • Middle Persian Language and Literature
  • Religious Interaction in the Early Islamic Period

Publications

Rabbis, Sorcerers, Kings, and Priests: The Culture of the Talmud in Ancient Iran (University of California Press, 2015).

“Excommunication in Jewish Babylonia: Comparing Bavli Mo‘ed Qaṭan 14b-17b and the Aramaic Bowl Spells in a Sasanian Context,” Harvard Theological Review 108, No 4 (Oct., 2015).

“The Boundaries of an Infidel in Zoroastrianism: A Middle Persian Term of Otherness for Jews, Christians, and Muslims,” Iranian Studies 48 (2015): 99-115.

“Authority and Empire in Sasanian Babylonia: The Rabbis and King Shapur in Dialogue,” Jewish Studies Quarterly 19, No. 2 (2012): 148-180.  

“Rabbinic Depictions of the Achaemenid King Cyrus the Great: The Babylonian Esther Midrash (bMeg. 10b-17a) in its Iranian Context,” in The Talmud in its Iranian Context, eds. Carol Bakhos and M. Rahim Shayegan (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010), 112-139.

Courses Currently Taught

  • Introduction to the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible
  • Sacred Books of the Jews
  • Rabbinic Judaism: Literature and Beliefs
  • Jews, Christians, and Others in Late Antiquity
  • Zoroastrian Hermeneutics

Background

  • IU College of Arts and Sciences Institute Grant, with Kevin Jaques and Jeremy Schott, “Holistic Approaches to the Study of Early Islam and the Late Antique World,” 2015-2016
  • Foundation for Jewish Culture, Maurice and Marilyn Cohen Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship in Jewish Studies, 2010-2011
  • Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture, International Dissertation Scholarship for Jewish Studies, 2010-2011
  • UCLA Graduate Division, Dissertation Year Fellowship, 2010-2011
  • Lady Davis Graduate Research Fellowship, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2005-06