Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Lots and Lots and Lots and Lots of Books

The Hebrew paper version of Haaretz has a nice article about Bar Ilan university's Jewish books project (פרוייקט השו"ת). The project began in the late 1960s and is still far from completion. The idea was to collect all halachic literature ever written in a searchable database, along with bells and whistles such as Hebrew translations of Aramaic texts, and further down the road, scanned images of them alongside the content.

So far there are 220,000,000 indexed words in the database, representing a large cross section of rabbinical writings. That means you'd need to read 7534 words a day, every day of the year from age 10 to age 90, never taking a day off and never going back to read anything twice, merely to see all those words. If you want to understand them all, even without going back to re-check anything ever, you'll need six or seven centuries assuming you're a fast learner. And remember, the database isn't complete yet (and new things are being written as we sit here).

The modern day affectation about how human knowledge has become too large for anyone to know all of it is of course true, but it's not new. The Jewish rabbinical literature alone passed the point of individual encompassing many centuries ago.

A friend and I recently did an interesting small experiment on this database. We asked it to count the number of times the word Jerusalem (ירושלים) appears in some of its various layers. Not Zion, Moriah, not Temple, nor any other permutation: simply the name of the city, straight.

In the Bible (Old Testament, of course): 670
Mishna: 125
Tosefta (a mishna-era compendium): 152
Extra tractates: מסכתות קטנות 149
Babylonian Talmud: 658
Jerusalem Talmud: 335
Halachic Midrash (a Talmud-era compendium): 197
Midrash: 3,400
Gaonic and Rishonim literature (roughly 7-17th centuries): 32,000


Anonymous said...

Three matters of accuracy:

One's a typo: By 'worlds' I think you mean 'words' (though 'worlds' is strangely appropriate too).

Another is that 'ירושלים' was not the only spelling of 'Jerusalem' that appears in the Bible, which presumably means you've under-counted.

The third is that you've acknowledged, but not corrected, your small factual error in this post. Why not correct it? Should one be casual about factual accuracy, even in small matters - especially if one is a historian? Young people might be reading.

Yaacov said...

Fixed 'em all.

Anonymous said...

What do you make of ירושלים appearing nearly twice as many times in the Babylonian Talmud as in the Jerusalem Talmud?

Is it just a matter of the Bavli being longer?

Joe in Australia said...

I suspect that a lot of the difference can be ascribed to the fact that there is no Yerushalmi on Kodshim. Perhaps Yaakov could run a search on that seder alone in the Bavli?