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It all started when reading a question about the shepherds in the field at the birth of Jesus:

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. Luke 2:8 ESV

It mentions a site claiming the Mishnah prohibit having flocks in the field in winter. Is the Mishnah a reliable source for analyzing this passage?

Were not the Mishnah compiled in the 2nd - 3rd century CE? Or perhaps is it asserted that they were unchanged in the centuries before they were compiled?

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  • Hi Danielus, welcome to the stack! Questions here must be anchored on a particular text and focus on interpretation of the text, and so I've edited your Question to try and bring it on-topic here, since it is effectively a question about interpreting the text faithfully in a first century context.
    – Steve can help
    Dec 20, 2022 at 13:21
  • The link given in that other CSE Question [the shepherds in the field at the birth of Jesus] is not available. www.religioustolerance.org
    – Lesley
    Dec 22, 2022 at 16:18

2 Answers 2

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There's no way to know which commentary or text dates from the first century. The finalizing and redacting of those holy books may well be after the first century but they are full of ancient doctrines. Just like the compilation date and changes in a Gospel account doesn't reduce the truths in it. The only way to know is by comparing the overall doctrine throughout the various books to understand the evolution of Jewish teachings. They would show sources from which Jesus and Paul may have learned. This site uses wiki to explain some basics:

Jerusalem Talmud – Traditionally, the redaction of this Talmud was thought to have been brought to an abrupt end around 425 C.E., when Theodosius II suppressed the Patriarchate and put an end to the practice of formal scholarly ordination. It was thought that the compilers of the Jerusalem Talmud lacked the time to produce a work of the quality they had intended, and that this is the reason why the gemara do not comment upon the whole Mishnah.1 In recent years scholars have come to doubt the causal link between the abolition of the Patriarchate and the seeming incompletion of the final redaction. However, as no evidence exists of Amoraim activity in Palestine after the 370s, it is still considered very likely that the final redaction of the Palestinian Talmud took place in the late fourth or early fifth Century.[2] – wikipedia.org

In the sense that “The terms Talmud and Gemara are often used interchangeably” and “is the basis for all codes of rabbinic law,” this means that much of the essential material contained in the Talmud comes from a period no less than 300 years after 70 AD. Even though we may date the original writing of the Mishnah to 200-220 AD, the material contained in it includes debates and discussions which took place after 70 AD by a group of rabbis called the Tannaim.

The Mishnah

The Mishnah or Mishna (Hebrew: משנה, "repetition", from the verb shanah שנה, or "to study and review", also "secondary"1](derived from the adj. שני)) is the first major written redaction of the Jewish oral traditions called the "Oral Torah" and the first major work of Rabbinic Judaism.[2] It was redacted c. 220 CE by Judah haNasi when, according to the Talmud, the persecution of the Jews and the passage of time raised the possibility that the details of the oral traditions dating from Pharisaic times (536 BCE – 70 CE) would be forgotten. It is thus named for being both the one written authority (codex) secondary (only) to the Tanakh as a basis for the passing of judgment, a source and a tool for creating laws, and the first of many books to complement the Bible in a certain aspect. The Mishnah is also called Shas (an acronym for Shisha Sedarim - the "six orders"), in reference to its six main divisions.[3] Rabbinic commentaries on the Mishnah over the next three centuries[4] were redacted as the Gemara, which, coupled with the Mishnah, comprise the Talmud. The Mishnah reflects debates between 70-200 CE by the group of rabbinic sages known as the Tannaim.[5] – wikipedia

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It mentions a site claiming the Mishnah prohibit having flocks in the field in winter. Is the Mishnah a reliable source for analyzing this passage?

Were not the Mishnah compiled in the 2nd - 3rd century CE? Or perhaps is it asserted that they were unchanged in the centuries before they were compiled?

It depends on what you mean by "reliable"

If reliable = exactly how everyone behaved all the time then no, the Mishnah is not reliable.
If reliable = a possible indicator for generally held practice then yes, the Mishnah is reliable.
It's one thing to have a book of rules, it's another thing to talk about what people actually did. Even with Mosaic law people often didn't obey.

About the best you can say of information from the Mishnah is:
"The Mishnah prohibits having flocks in the field in winter. Keep in mind that the Mishnah reflects debates between 70-200 CE by the group of rabbinic sages known as the Tannaim which would be more than 60 years after Jesus' birth"

Would I believe the Mishnah over anything in Luke? No, I would not.

The Bible does not say that Jesus was born in winter. There are many guesses and rationalizations for one time of year or another but the bottom line is that the Bible does not tell us what time of year Jesus was born.

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  • Since the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 74 A.D. and temple sacrifices came to an abrupt end, then surely there would no longer be any need for sheep singled out for sacrifice in Jerusalem to be kept in the fields - regardless of what time of year it was. I would appreciate knowing the source of the quote about the Mishnah prohibiting having flocks in the field in winter. I've got an open question on this in Mi Yodyea.
    – Lesley
    Dec 22, 2022 at 16:14
  • @Lesley the quote comes from the question - the original post.
    – David D
    Dec 22, 2022 at 21:07

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