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From Text to Tradition, a History of Judaism in Second Temple and Rabbinic Times: A History of Second Temple and Rabbinic Judaism 1st Edition
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- Item Weight : 1.05 pounds
- Paperback : 299 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0881253723
- ISBN-13 : 978-0881253726
- Dimensions : 6 x 1 x 9.25 inches
- Publisher : Ktav Pub Inc; 1st edition (March 1, 1991)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #418,014 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Professor Schiffman stresses that Judaism is not a single view of God, the world, and human duties. It is a collection of divergent religious, cultural, and legal traditions and civilization of the Jewish people as developed, changed and passed down from biblical time until today. True, “the traditions of the biblical world were axiomatic for later Judaism…all agreed that biblical tradition was binding.” But Jews differed in ancient times and today on how to interpret the Bible and its requirements.
It is clear that the tendency of biblical law was to go beyond laws such as the Code of Hammurabi and to provide equality before the law to all citizens and to move away from excessive punishment, a pattern continued later in talmudic times resulting in changes in biblical law.
Schiffman tells about changes made in Judaism during the Persian Period, when in 539 BCE, Cyrus the Great gained control over the entire are of Mesopotamia, and allowed Jews who had been exiled from Judea to Babylon when the First Jewish Temple was destroyed, to return home. During the First Temple period, for example, it was possible to join the Jewish people in an informal way by moving physically into the land and adhering to its religion and laws. There was no system of conversion, but the idea developed during this period, an idea not in the Bible, that a person was a Jew only if his mother was a Jew.
Soon, sometime around 400 BCE, we do not know precisely when, Ezra came to Judea from Babylon and “devoted himself to making the Torah the center of the religious life of his people. But the Torah had one deficiency as a legal text. There were apparent contradictions and inconsistencies between the legal rulings in its various sections.”
“Thus there was born the method which later Hebrew termed midrash.” The earliest form of midrash dealt with Jewish law, what the rabbis later called halakha. This early midrash did not contain the stories that the rabbis added to teach lessons to the populace. Schiffman shows how although the Torah does not prohibit marrying non-Jews, and even describes ancient Jewish leaders such as Moses and Joseph marrying even daughters of pagan priest, Ezra used midrash to forbid intermarriage.
Then, after telling us much more about the Persian Period and the changes introduced into Judaism at that time, he speaks about the Hellenistic Period. This is the time that Judaism was influenced by the philosophy of Philo (around 20 BCE to 50 CE) and his view that much of the Bible should be understood as allegory, and not taken literally. Philo was influenced by the Greek Plato. It is the period that influenced Maimonides (1138-1204), Judaism’s greatest philosopher, who stressed that the philosophy of the Greek Aristotle was correct, that people need to use their intellect, otherwise they are no better than plants and animals.
Schiffman devotes a chapter to “Sectarianism in the Second commonwealth,” the period of the second Temple, from 515 BCE to 70 CE. This was a time when there where many different groups of Jews, including Sadducees, Hasidim, Essene, and Pharisees, from whom the rabbis claim they are descendant. He tells about the Hasmonean Revolt against the Syrian Greeks and the dynasty the Hasmoneans created leading Jews for about a hundred years.
The Pharisees, which first appear in history around 150 BCE, had three major characteristics. First, they primarily represented the middle and lower classes. Second, they were not as Hellenized as the upper class and remained mostly Near Eastern in culture. Third, they accepted the nonbiblical customs that had been passed down through the generation, the traditions of the fathers, what the later rabbis called the oral law after adding to these laws.
The Pharisees espoused views that are not mentioned or even hinted in the Torah, but which were later incorporated into rabbinic Judaism. The accepted the ideas of the immortality of the soul and of reward and punishment after death, ideas that the Sadducees, which also were first recognized as a group around 150 BCE, denied. The Pharisees also believed in the existence of angels, that God sometimes interferes in human lives, which the Sadducees also denied. It is possible that these ideas originated sometime before 150 BCE, but we have no evidence that this is so.
All in all, it is a comprehensive history of Judaism by a well-recognized scholar told in an easy to read and interesting way.
The book documents the historical transition "from text to tradition;" but it does not provide much analysis of this transition. He briefly suggests in the Epilogue that "When the amoraic commentary in the form of the Talmuds became available, this material became the new scripture of Judaism ... Scripture had been displaced by Talmud." And, "the displacement of biblical tradition as the central authority in Judaism was a process long in the making. ...the ever-expanding, developing nature of the oral law attracted the best minds, leaving the written Torah to serve as a subject of elementary instruction, midrashic exegesis, and technical grammatical study by a select few." The success of the Talmudic enterprise in gaining the confidence and financial support of the people both in Israel and in Babylon to support these schools of reason and elaboration with a thin veneer of Torah continues to mystify me.