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The Beginnings of Jewishness: Boundaries, Varieties, Uncertainties (Hellenistic Culture and Society) Paperback – January 17, 2001

ISBN-13: 978-0520226937 ISBN-10: 0520226933 Edition: New Ed

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The Beginnings of Jewishness: Boundaries, Varieties, Uncertainties (Hellenistic Culture and Society) + Imperialism and Jewish Society: 200 B.C.E. to 640 C.E. (Jews, Christians, and Muslims from the Ancient to the Modern World) + From the Maccabees to the Mishnah, Second Edition
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 458 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; New Ed edition (January 17, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520226933
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520226937
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #825,738 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"I cannot begin to do justice to the nuances and wealth of information that these articles offer. Cohen possesses an enviable gift of being provocative and challenging... He opens the door to the rewarding realm of the internal life of one community. And as unrepresentative as this community may, at first, appear, no scholar interested in issues of identity, self-definition, core and periphery, community and law, family, class and gender in antiquity can afford to give Cohen a miss." - Hagith Sivan, Bryn Mawr Classical Review "One of the greatest strengths of Cohen's erudite book is that he is willing to acknowledge that many parts of his argument are open to challenge. While some might be overwhelmed by the sheer volume, this reviewer thinks he has done a great service in collecting an immense amount of relevant data, allowing readers to weigh the evidence for themselves and draw their own conclusions... Cohen's book is the most comprehensive study to date on the question of Jewish identity in antiquity." - J. S. Kaminsky, Choice "Cohen himself exemplifies the scrupulous precision which he shows to be necessary to his subject... An outstanding work of scholarship." - M. J. Edwards, Classical Review"

About the Author

Shaye J. D. Cohen is Ungerleider Professor of Judaic Studies and Professor of Religious Studies at Brown University. His earlier books include Josephus in Galilee and Rome: His Vita and Development as a Historian (1979) and From the Maccabees to the Mishnah: A Profile of Judaism (1987).

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

40 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Philippe Ranger on August 23, 2002
Format: Paperback
I am not a Jew. I bought this book thinking it would explain in good part how the religious culture of the Judeans in the Second Temple period became the enduring religion of a people spread far and wide and how, after the cleansing of Judea, it gave rise to the central documents of that religion, the Mishnah and the Talmud. (What Cohen calls moving from ethnos to ethnoreligion.)
The book actually does little to answer that concern except glancingly. It iscentered on the period I was thinking of (with many extensions later), but the contents are better described by the subtitle, Boundaries, Varieties, Uncertainties, and especially Boundaries. Cohen is a rabbi and a professor of Judaic studies (more accurately a historian of Judaism); quite probably to him my original question was too elementary, and the general answer to it is a given, part of the background from which he speaks. From *his* point of view, the book does contribute seriously to the question of the beginnings of Jewishness. ("Contribute" -- the book is a collection of linked essays on very specific questions, not an overview.) From my original point of view, the book seems totally preoccupied with boundary questions, e.g,, when and how did the Romans stop thinking of Judai as people from Judea, and start looking at them as people sharing a religion, or how did non-Jews become Jews in different periods.
Yet, despite having gone in beyond my depth, I found it impossible to open the book anywhere and not keep on reading, deeply interested. And, as I read on, I realised that the entire book is the best model of historical scholarship, on any topic, that I have ever seen. It could be read with much profit simply for the quality of the work, totally outside any question about Jewishness.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Nathan Breen on January 13, 2001
Format: Paperback
Shaye Cohen, using literary criticism, sociological methodology, and history, has effectively demonstrated the evolution of what we call "Judaism." Who or what was a "Jew" is historically a Hellenistic construct developed as part of the Hasmonean regime's (the family behind the Maccabean revolt in the 2nd century B.C.E.) attempt to seperate Ioudiaos from Hellene; and what is well documented is the fact that in creating this religio-national group, the Hasmoneans resorted to the same tactics that Alexander imagined in his vision of a "ouranos" centered around Greek culture. Further, and of greater importance to this reader, is the fact that Cohen demonstrates that in the ancient world and late antiquity people generally looked alike (which forces various historical and theological paradigms to be revisited ... particularly in terms of texts used in our high schools and colleges). Another key importance of this analysis lies in the refutation of the sterotypical assumption that Jews somehow looked different and behaved (occupation, interpersonal relations) differently from nonJews in that world. Jews became different, lived apart and worked different occupations only as a result of Roman imperial edict, Church edict, and Medieval European political design. The belief that Jews were different and distinctive emerged as institutional antisemiticism in the 18th and 19th centuries (and reached fruition in the Holocaust) was of political and religious design AFTER the Church became the "official" religion of the state in late antiquity and not a historical fact prior to that occurence.. This book belongs with LATE ANTIQUITY (Bowersock, Brown, and Grabar), THE WORLD OF LATE ANTIQUITY (Brown), CHRISTIANITY & PAGANISM IN THE FOURTH TO EIGHTH CENTURIES (MacMullen), and EMPIRE TO COMMONWEALTH (Fowden). A must for students of late antiquity and the history of religions.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Timothy Dougal on August 31, 2003
Format: Paperback
'The Beginnings of Jewishness' seems like it ought to be essential reading for both Christians and Jews who wonder where they came from. In the book, Cohen avoids reading back into the Bible itself and considers a great deal of other historical and literary evidence to determine when being a Jew changed its meaning from 'being from Judea', the geographical location, to 'being a member of the Jewish religion'. He finds the first traces of this in the Hasmonean period, expansions of it in the Roman and up through history. Along the way he is also tracing the beginnings of Rabbinic Judaism after the fall of the Jerusalem Temple, which is quite different from what constituted Judaism before that event. All of this would probably be very surprizing to those who hold anachronistic visions of Jesus as a Rabbinic Jew!. Cohen also goes into quite a bit of detail on matrilineal descent and conversion, maybe more than some would want, but interesting nonetheless. Good book.
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