Avot de-rabbi Nathan

The following has been excerpted from the Encyclopedia Judaica


AVOT DE-RABBI NATHAN (Heb. אָבוֹת דְּרַבִּי נָתָן; “The Fathers according to Rabbi Nathan”), a commentary on, and an elaboration of, the mishnaic tractate Avot. The work contains many ethical sayings, but also historical traditions, stories and bits of folklore.
Pirkei Avot top row books

The work has come down to us in two highly different versions, customarily termed Version A (40 chapters) and B (49 chapters).

It was known and used by many rabbinic authorities throughout the Jewish world in the middle ages.

Two versions of the text

Version A has been included among the so-called “minor tractates” of the Talmud in printed editions of the Talmud since 1550. It should be emphasized, however, that the work was never considered part of “minor tractates” before the printed publication of the Babylonian Talmud.

Version B was first published by Solomon Schechter (1887, together with a critical edition of Version A). The two versions seem to be two distinct forms (and the only forms known at least since the Middle Ages) of an earlier work.


ARN consists of three different sections in both versions, reflecting the varying character of the five chapters of Avot in the Mishnah:

(a) a detailed commentary on most of the sayings in Mishnah Avot 1:1–2:12, except 1:16–2:7.
(b) supplementary material to Mishnah Avot chapter 3–4, consisting of diverse sayings of Tannaim;
(c) an elaboration of the numerical sayings in Mishnah Avot chapter 5.

Versions A and B both follow this threefold division: neither version includes any commentary on the sayings of the two students of Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai cited in Mishnah Avot 2:13–14 and neither version comments on Avot 1:16–2:7.

These features, as well as others, shared by both versions, indicate that both must have evolved from one source. Indeed, they basically share the same core of material throughout the work, although the wording in each version is unique, and each contains additional material unparalleled in the other.

…one may conclude that the earliest form of ARN goes back to a time not much later than the first half of the 3rd century C.E. However, a detailed comparison of the material in Avot de-Rabbi Nathan (in both versions) with the parallel material in other compositions of the talmudic literature leads to the conclusion that the present form of the two versions of ARN is post-talmudic. The terminus post quem for the final redaction of the work is thus after the redaction of the Babylonian Talmud (5th century C.E. [?]) and the terminus ante quem is probably sometime in the 8th century, since the earliest manuscripts of ARN are from the 9th century, or somewhat earlier.

The two versions seem to be basically of Palestinian provenance, but at least in Version A there are evident indications of secondary Babylonian coloring.

English translations

* The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan (Yale Judaica Series) 1955,1990, Judah Goldin (Translator)

* Aboth d’Rabbi Nathan, translated into English with Introduction and Notes, by Eli Cashdan, in The Minor Tractates of the Talmud, Soncino, 1965.

* Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan: Abot De Rabbi Nathan, Anthony J. Saldarini, Brill Academic, 1975.

* Avos D’Rebbia Nosson, Rabbi Avraham Yaakov Finkel, Judaica Press

* Judaism and Story: The Evidence of The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan, Jacob Neusner

“In this close analysis of The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan, a sixth-century commentary on the Mishnah-tractate The Fathers (Avot), Jacob Neusner considers the way in which the story, as a distinctive type of narrative, entered the canonical writings of Judaism. The final installment in Neusner’s cycle of analyses of the major texts of the Judaic canon, Judaism and Story shows that stories about sages exist in far greater proportion in The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan than in any of the other principal writings in the canon of Judaism of late antiquity. Neusner’s detailed comparison of The Fathers and The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan demonstrates the transmission and elaboration of these stories and shows how these processes incorporated the newer view of the sage as a supernatural figure and of the eschatological character of Judaic teleology. These distinctions, as Neusner describes them, mark a shift in Jewish orientation to world history.”



L. Zunz, Die gottesdienstlichen Vorträge der Juden, historisch entwickelt (1832), 108ff. (Zunz-Albeck, 50–51); S.Z. Schechter, Aboth de-Rabbi Nathan (Heb., 1887); L. Finkelstein, Mavo le-Massektot Avot ve-Avot d’Rabbi Natan (Heb., 1950); J. Goldin, The Fathers according to Rabbi Nathan (1955); J. Goldin, Studies in Midrash and Related Literature (1988); A.J. Saldarini, The Fathers according to Rabbi Nathan, Version B (1975); M.B. Lerner, “Minor Tractates,” in: The Literature of the Sages (1987), 369ff.; M. Kister, Studies in Avot de-Rabbi Nathasn: Text, Redaction and Interpretation (Heb., 1998); M. Kister, “Prolegomenon,” Avoth de-Rabbi Nathan Solomon Schechter Edition with References to Parallels in the two versions and to the Addenda in the Schechter’s Edition(Heb., 1997); M. Kister, “Legends of the Destruction of the Second Temple in Avot de-Rabbi Nathan,” in: Tarbiz 67 (1998), 483–529 (in Heb.); M. Kister, “Avot de-Rabbi Nathan Chapter 17: Redaction and Transfigured Traditions,” in: Meḥkerei Talmud, 3 (2005), 703–39 (in Heb.)

[Menahem Kister (2nd ed.)]

Source Citation   (MLA 7th Edition) 

Kister, Menahem. “Avot de-Rabbi Nathan.” Encyclopaedia Judaica. Ed. Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik. 2nd ed. Vol. 2. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007. 750-751. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 17 May 2015.

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX2587501702

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