This last year, in an effort to better understand the citation patterns in the Babylonian Talmud (Bavli) and the ways in which the Bavli knew and used the Bible, I developed a spreadsheet that contains each biblical citation in the Bavli(described in more detail here).  In my first attempt to analyze this data quantitatively, I sought to identify the number of unique verses cited and their frequency (see here).  My statistical skills are relatively basic, so I have since been spending some time thinking about the kinds of analyses that might want to run on this data.

In the table below, I seek to identify the relative citation frequency of individual books of the Bible. The number in the table is the ration of relative frequency of the citation of this book in the Bavli to the books relative size (by number of verses).  That is: ((Number of times the Bavli cites the book)/(Number of biblical citations contained in the Bavli))/(Number of verses in the biblical book)/((Number of
verses in the Hebrew Bible)).

A number above 1 means that the book is “overrepresented” as a measure of its quantitative size in the Hebrew Bible, whereas a number less than 1 signifies its underrepresentation:

Lev

5.9

Deut

3.35

Exod

2.04

Num

1.83

Malachi

1.5

Esther

1.48

Song

1.24

Eccl

1.13

Gen

0.88

Prov

0.86

Hosea

0.84

Amos

0.79

Zeph

0.78

Isaiah

0.76

Psalms

0.66

Ruth

0.66

Hab

0.66

Lam

0.65

Jonah

0.55

1 Sam

0.53

Hag

0.51

Zech

0.51

2Sam

0.49

Job

0.42

Dan

0.4

1Kings

0.39

Ezek

0.37

Judges

0.36

Joel

0.36

Ezra

0.34

Nahum

0.34

Jer

0.34

2Kings

0.3

Joshua

0.3

Neh

0.25

1Chr

0.17

2Chr

0.16

Ovad

0.08

Here are a few preliminary observations and hypotheses:

1.  Four of the five books of the Pentateuch (Torah) are overrepresented.  Since the Bavli is predominantly concerned with law, this is unsurprising (although the dominant position of Leviticus caught me a little by surprise).

Genesis contains little law, and so is underrepresented.It would be interesting to follow this up to identify whether there are clusters of tractates that account for large chunks of these citations.  For example, I wonder if Leviticus is vastly overrepresented in a few tractates but otherwise drops to a more “average” rate of representation.

2.  One might expect that books that had liturgical functions, such as Esther, Ruth, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, Psalms, and Song of Songs, would be overrepresented.  This is only partially borne out by the data.  Psalms, Lamentations, and Ruth are in fact significantly underrepresented.

3.  Some prophetic books are cited far more than others. Why?

4.  The historical books are all underrepresented.  Perhaps this correlates with the rabbis’ relative disinterest in history.

5.  It is hard to figure out why Malachi would be overrepresented and Ovadiah so underrepresented.  Might this simply be a statistical fluke since both books are so short?

As always, comments and thoughts welcome!