A little over five years ago I posted an idea about creating a social network analysis of the rabbis found in classical rabbinic literature. In the interim I have thought a lot about this project but have done very little on it. I still believe it is worth doing, though, and I have finally taken a concrete step forward.
First, a brief justification for the project. According to several scholars, most of the rabbis we find in classical rabbinic literature (e.g., the Babylonian Talmud) worked in small disciple circles rather than larger educational institutions (e.g., the yeshiva) which only began to emerge at the end of Late Antiquity. These small circles formed a loose network. Students, for example, could move back and forth between circles, transmitting knowledge. It is unclear how often or in what contexts individual rabbis would have contact with their colleagues.
Rabbinic literature, particularly the reports of cases and individual sayings (as opposed to the less reliable stories, or aggadah), mentions interactions between these rabbis. Sometimes these statements note simply that “rabbi x said in the name of rabbi y,” others mention biological or pedagogical relationships between them. The idea is to use social network analysis to visualize these networks. How did knowledge move within and between the nodes (circles of rabbinic disciples) of this network? Who are the rabbinic connectors, leaders, and isolates? How did information move between circles in Palestine and Babylonia? Where do we locate “center” and “periphery”? Does a visualization help us?
The first step to creating such a visualization, not to mention other larger scale projects that involve rabbinic literature, is to create a digital list of all of the rabbis mentioned in the literature. Next, with the help of a collaborator, we will seek to identify the “connecting words” that describe all the different relationships between rabbis and to code these relationships into a software package that will perform the visualizations.
The first step is finally complete. We created a spreadsheet of all the names of rabbis as enumerated in the three volume Hebrew work by Aaron Hyman, Toldot Tanaʾim ṿe-Amoraʾim : mesudar ʻa. p. a.b. ʻim beʾurim ṿe-hagahot ṿe-girsaʾot shonot (London, 1910). Since this list can be used in other digital projects as well, I am making it available here (Rabbis_Names) in Excel. We broke out each of the components of the name into a different column and indicated where more than one name can be referring to the same individual. The spreadsheet should be easy to use for those who know how to work with such things.
And for the rest of you, in case you were wondering, there are somewhere in the range of 5,000 individual rabbis named in the literature surveyed by Hyman.