Having been alerted yesterday to a curious text, I began to investigate it. The text, as printed in the Vilna edition of the Talmud, reads as follows (Megillah 12a):
אמר רבי חנן משום ר”מ כדת של תורה מה דת של תורה אכילה מרובה משתיה אף סעודתו של אותו רשע אכילה מרובה משתיה
What is according to the law?
Rabbi Hanan said from Rabbi Meir’s name: “According to the Torah’s law: just as the Torah’s law is eating should be more plentiful than drinking, so was the meal of that wicked one – the eating was more plentiful than the drinking.”
While I aspire to write about the content of the statement in the future, I wanted to investigate who actually quotes Rabbi Meir with this statement.
My curiosity was provoked, seeing as Rabbi Hanan didn’t seem to be someone who might be indirectly quoting Rabbi Meir.
So, I first sought to check out the various textual witnesses, primarily the manuscripts:
|Munich 95||רב חנן|
|Munich 140||ר’ חנין|
|NY – Columbia X 893 T 141||?רב? חנין|
|Oxford Opp. Add. fol. 23||רב חנן|
|London – BL Harl. 5508 (400)||ר’ חנינא|
|Pesaro 1516||רבי חכין|
There certainly seems to be some variation, although mostly along the lines of חנן, although sometimes חנין/חנינא (even חכין looks a lot like חנין). There also seems to be a lack of uniformity regarding whether this sage was a רבי or a רב.
One problem with attributing this text to Rabbi Hanina was that he seems to be a bit too temporally late to quote Rabbi Meir, even indirectly. Another possibility is to attribute it to Rabbi Hanina, son of Hama, which is a distinct possibility.
However, I suspect that the sage indirectly quoting Rabbi Meir is neither of any of the aforementioned amoraim, but, rather Rabbi Yohanan. In addition to being only one letter off (יוחנן (or יחנן) vs חנן), Rabbi Yohanan is the most frequent indirect quoter of Rabbi Meir in the Babylonian Talmud.
Of the fifteen other times in the Babylonian Talmud in which Rabbi Meir is indirectly quoted by an amora, eight of these are by Rabbi Yohanan (Avodah Zarah 24b, Kiddushin 57b, Megillah 27a (2x), Sotah 35a, Sotah 36b, Sotah 42b (N.B. that this text includes the language of “אותו רשע”, just as with our text on Megillah 12a), and Temurah 3a), so Rabbi Yohanan is clearly the most frequent indirect amoraic quoter of Rabbi Meir in the Babylonian Talmud.
I suspect that the statement on Megillah 12a indirectly quoting Rabbi Meir was seen by the Babylonian Talmud as having been performed by Rabbi Yohanan, since he is the most frequent indirect amoraic quoter of Rabbi Meir in the Babylonian Talmud. However, at some point in the transmission, perhaps through a copyist error, the beginning of Rabbi Yohanan’s name got dropped, and ended up a similar, albeit shortened name, as we have either חנן or חנין.
 Of the other seven, four of them being said by Rav Huna quoting Rav (Berakhot 60b, Berakhot 61a, Hullin 63b, and Pesahim 3b (although N.B. that these latter two examples are also noted by only a possibility (through the use of “אמרי לה”) of an indirect quotation of Rabbi Meir)), two of them by Rav Yehudah quoting Shmuel (Eruvin 13a and Sotah 20a), and one by Rabbi Levi (Sukkah 8b).