Misleading Presuppositions about Judaism

The description of Judaism at the time of Jesus is beset with problems of definition, not least those of anachronistic definition. If we are to gain a clear perspective on the Judaism (of the time) of Jesus, these problems need to be faced squarely, since otherwise the historical context within which we locate Jesus may be seriously distorted, and we may be led up a number of false trails.

An older generation of scholarship, both Jewish and Christian, thought in

1. What Renan famously called 'a fifth Gospel' (Life 31).

2. What follows (§§9.1-5) is a revised version of my earlier 'Judaism in the Land of Israel in the First Century', in J. Neusner, ed., Judaism in Late Antiquity, Part 2: Historical Syntheses (Leiden: Brill, 1995) 229-61.

terms of 'normative Judaism',3 the assumption being that the Judaism represented in rabbinic tradition (Mishnah, Talmuds, etc.) already served as the norm determinative for Judaism in the first century.4 Scholars were, of course, aware of Jewish pseudepigrapha, several of which date from the second century BCE or earlier, and of Philo, the Alexandrian Jewish philosopher who died about 50 CE.6 But these writings were preserved for posterity by Christians and not by the rabbis and so could the more easily be regarded as variations on or deviations from a Pharisaic/rabbinic norm.7 There was also some reflection on the possibility that diaspora Judaism was a different branch of the species from Palestinian Judaism, perhaps thus providing a solution to the conundrum of what Judaism it was that the Christian Paul set his face so firmly against.8 But the thesis simply reinforced the sense that diaspora Judaism was a divergent (and inferior) form of Judaism, whose degree of divergence itself provided a large part of the explanation of why Pauline Christianity and normative/Palestinian Judaism went their separate ways.

In the mid-twentieth century, however, the assumption of a Pharisaic/rabbinic normative Judaism recognized as such in first-century Israel was shattered by the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Although the delay in publishing many of the more obviously sectarian scrolls diminished their initial impact, they clearly include Jewish documents which predate Christianity and could never have been affected by Christianity.9 More to the point, their self-asserted sectarian character is evident,10 and can hardly fail to be attributed to a kind of Judaism

3. The term is particularly linked to G. F. Moore, Judaism in the First Three Centuries of the Christian Era (3 vols.; Cambridge: Harvard University, 1927-30); see, e.g., Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism 34 and n. 11.

4. The assumption prevails, e.g., in J. Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time ofJesus (London: SCM, 1969), and in S. Safrai and M. Stern, eds., The Jewish People in the First Century (CRINT I; Assen: van Gorcum, 2 vols. 1974, 1976). The scholarship of the period is typified by reliance on the great collection of rabbinic material by H. Strack and P. Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament (Munich: Beck, 4 vols., 1926-28).

5. Particularly R. H. Charles, ed., The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament (Oxford: Clarendon, 2 vols. 1913); W. Bousset and H. Gressmann, Die Religion des Judentums im späthellenistischen Zeitalter (HNT 21; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1925,41966).

6. See P. Borgen, 'Philo of Alexandria' in M. E. Stone, ed., Jewish Writings ofthe Second Temple Period (CRINT II.2; Assen: Van Gorcum, 1984) 233-82; also 'Philo of Alexandria', ABD 5.333-42; J. Morris, in Schürer, History III.2, 809-89.

7. See, e.g., the disagreement among Bousset, Gressmann, and Moore on this question (discussed by Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism 34 and 55-56).

8. Particularly C. G. Montefiore, Judaism and St. Paul (London: Goschen, 1914), and H. J. Schoeps, Paul: The Theology ofthe Apostle in the Light of Jewish Religious History (London: Lutterworth, 1961).

10. See particularly H. Stegemann, The Library ofQumran (1993; ET Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998) 104-18.

which flourished in the heart of the land of Israel up to the 60s of the first century CE. This in turn has resulted in a renewed interest in the pseudepigrapha11 and an increasing recognition that they too have to be described as representing different forms of Judaism. At the same time the extent of Pharisaic influence in firstcentury Israel has been radically questioned,12 and the sharpness of any distinction between 'Judaism' and 'Hellenism' which had allowed a clear demarcation between 'Palestinian Judaism' and 'Hellenistic Judaism' has been considerably blurred.13 Within a broader framework we could perhaps also note that the liberal thrust of so much western scholarship, reinforced more recently by postmodern suspicion, has progressively undermined the very idea of a 'norm'.

In consequence the last two decades of the twentieth century witnessed an increasing tendency to emphasize the diverse character of first-century Judaism and to speak of several 'Judaisms' (plural), leaving the question of their legitimacy as forms of 'Judaism' unasked as being either misleading or improper.14 Still too little explored, however, is the further or alternative question how this quite proper modern, phenomenological description of different Judaisms relates to the self-perception of each of these several Judaisms in their own day, not to mention their own evaluation of the other Judaisms.

The main alternative option at this point for a historian of the period is to speak of 'Palestinian Judaism'. It is true that the name 'Palestine' came into formal use for the territory only in the second century CE, when, following the failure of the second Jewish Revolt (132-135), the Roman colony of Aelia Capitolina was reestablished, and Judea was renamed Syria Palaestina. But the usage itself is very old and common among Greco-Roman writers. Herodotus in the fifth century BCE already speaks of 'the Syrians of Palestine' (Hist. II. 10.3),

11. See particularly J. H. Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (2 vols.; London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1983, 1985) = OTP; also Charlesworth, Jesus ch. 2; H. F. D. Sparks, ed. The Apocryphal Old Testament (Oxford: Clarendon, 1984).

12. Differently by Neusner, Rabbinic Traditions; also From Politics to Piety; and by Sanders, particularly Judaism: Practice and Belief, 63 BCE-66 CE (London: SCM, 1992) ch. 18.

14. E.g., S. Sandmel, The First Christian Century in Judaism and Christianity (New York: Oxford University, 1969) ch. 2 'Palestinian Judaisms'; J. Neusner et al., eds., Judaisms and Their Messiahs at the Turn of the Christian Era (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1987); J. Neusner, Studying Classical Judaism: A Primer (Louisville: Westminster, 1991) 27-36; A. F. Segal, The Other Judaisms of Late Antiquity (Atlanta: Scholars, 1987); J. Murphy, The Religious World of Jesus: An Introduction to Second Temple Palestinian Judaism (Hoboken, NJ: Ktav, 1991) 39. 'Whereas rabbinic Judaism is dominated by an identifiable perspective that holds together many otherwise diverse elements, early Judaism appears to encompass almost unlimited diversity and variety — indeed, it might be more appropriate to speak of early Judaisms' (R. A. Kraft and G. W. E. Nickelsburg, Early Judaism and Its Modern Interpreters [Atlanta: Scholars, 1986] 2).

and though there is a question as to whether he was referring only to the coastal strip south of Phoenicia (the territory of the Philistines), Josephus had no doubt that Herodotus meant the Jews/Judeans (Ap. 1.168-71). And Aristotle in the fourth century BCE refers to the Dead Sea as 'the lake in Palestine' (Meteorologica II, p. 359a). So 'Palestinian Judaism' is an accurate enough historical description for the Judaism of the first century CE, whatever the sensitivities occasioned for modern scholarship by the political realities of present-day Israel and Palestine. 'Judaism in the land of Israel' would be equally acceptable and give more weight to Israel's covenant perspective.

Equally problematic has been the temporal connotations attached to 'Judaism'. As already noted (§5.5), an older scholarship spoke of first-century Judaism as Spatjudentum (late Judaism), a usage which persisted into the late 1960s. This was an astonishing designation since it reduced Judaism to the role of serving solely as forerunner to Christianity and left a question mark over how one should describe the next nineteen centuries of Judaism! The still more common 'intertestamental Judaism' reduced the significance of this 'Judaism' to bridging the gap between the (Christian) Testaments and implied a coherence ('Judaism') for the documents chiefly referred to, which is by no means clear. The natural reaction has been to choose the opposite adjective and to speak of 'early Judaism', or 'formative Judaism'.16 The actual period covered is of uncertain length, particularly its starting point — whether from Ezra, or from the Greek period (300 BCE), the most favoured option, or from the close of the Jewish canon (from Bible to Mishnah), or from the Maccabees, or from the emergence of the Pharisees as a religious force, or indeed from the beginnings of the reformulation of Judaism after 70 CE. The end point is more obviously 200 CE, on the grounds that the codification of the Mishnah (about 200) marks the beginning of rabbinic Judaism proper.17 The designation 'early Judaism', however, runs a risk similar to that of the objectionable Spatjudentum, since it can be taken to imply that the only significance of first-century Judaism was as a precursor to rabbinic Judaism.

The further alternative of designating the period 300 BCE to 200 CE as

15. See GLAJJ 1.2-3, 7, 349 (§§1, 3,142) with commentary.

16. So, e.g., the title of the volume edited by Kraft and Nickelsburg, Early Judaism; Neusner has also promoted the term 'Formative Judaism' in the series produced by him under that title. In contrast, the series of volumes edited by W. S. Green (Approaches to Ancient Judaism) use 'Ancient Judaism' to cover everything from the post-exilic period to the early rabbis. M. Z. Brettler, 'Judaism in the Hebrew Bible? The Transition from Ancient Israelite Religion to Judaism', CBQ 61 (1999) 429-47, suggests speaking of the biblical period as 'emergent' or 'earliest' Judaism.

17. For the equivalent questions regarding the beginning of 'the rabbinic period', see

I. M. Gafni, 'The Historical Background', in S. Safrai, ed., The Literature of the Sages (CRINT

'Middle has the advantage of distinguishing the Greco-Roman period from what went before (the 'ancient Judaism' of the sixth to fourth centuries BCE). But it raises in turn the issues of when we should start speaking of 'Judaism' proper, whether 'Judaism' is a concept or simply a label, and the justification for and significance of marking off the period ('the religion of Israel') so sharply from the still biblical 'Judaism' of the return from exile.19 Probably the least objectionable and problematic term to use is 'Second Temple Judaism': it does not purport to denote 'Judaism' as such but the 'Judaism' which spanned the 600 or so years from the rebuilding of the Temple in the late sixth century BCE to its destruction in 70 CE, a Judaism focused round the Jerusalem Temple.

All this potential perplexity points up the need to proceed cautiously if we are to avoid the danger of imposing categories and grids which might distort the evidence more than display it. In view of the confusion of definitions which has weakened earlier debate we should obviously begin with some clarification of the term 'Judaism' itself (§9.2). We can then indicate something of the range of beliefs and practices which that term, or more precisely, Palestinian Judaism or Second Temple Judaism, may properly be used to categorise (§9.3). It will also be necessary to highlight the factionalism which was such a mark of the Judaism of the second half of the Second Temple period (§9.4), in the light of which it will be still more pressing to clarify what it was that makes it possible to use the same category, 'Judaism', for all the 'Judaisms'. What was the common ground which they shared (§9.5)? Finally we need to ask what difference it might have made that Jesus was brought up in Galilee (§§9.6-7) and remind ourselves of the politics of the period and how they would have influenced conditions in the time of Jesus (§9.8). All this should give us a clearer idea of what the description of someone as a 'Jew', whether Jesus or any other Jew, would have signified in the first century CE.20 The immediate results are summed up in a brief outline of Jesus' life and mission (§9.9).

18. G. Boccaccini, Middle Judaism: Jewish Thought, 300BCEto 200 CE (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991).

19. The Anchor Bible Dictionary completes its articles on the 'History of Israel' with the Persian period and begins its treatment of 'Judaism' with the Greco-Roman period (ABD 3.52676, 3.1037-89).

20. Cf, D. J. Harrington, 'The Jewishness of Jesus: Facing Some Problems' (1987), in Charlesworth, ed., Jesus' Jewishness 123-36: 'Our increased understanding of the diversity within Palestinian Judaism in Jesus' time makes it difficult to know precisely what kind of Jew Jesus was and against which background we should try to interpret him'; 'the more we know, the less we know' (136, 128). Similarly T. Holmen, 'The Jewishness of Jesus in the "Third Quest'", in Labahn and Schmidt, eds., Jesus, Mark and Q 143-62. Meier: 'the phrase Jesus the Jew has become an academic cliche. The real challenge is to unpack that phrase and specify what sort of first-century Jew Jesus was' ('Present State of the "Third Quest"' 467). Meier pre-

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