Performing Israel's Faith: Narrative and Law in Rabbinic Theology

By Jacob Neusner | Go to book overview

Preface

This book carries forward the argument of E. P. Sanders in Paul and Palestinian Judaism1 that, “the fundamental nature of the covenant conception … largely accounts for the relative scarcity of appearances of the term ‘covenant’ in Rabbinic literature. The covenant was presupposed, and the Rabbinic discussions were largely directed toward the question of how to fulfill the covenantal obligations.” This proposition is then meant to disprove the conviction (“all but universally held”) that Judaism is a degeneration of the Old Testament view: “The once noble idea of covenant as offered by God’s grace and obedience as the consequence of that gracious gift degenerated into the idea of petty legalism, according to which one had to earn the mercy of God by minute observance of irrelevant ordinances.” Sanders invokes the language of “covenantal nomism.”

In these pages I show how covenantal nomism works: how the norms of conduct set forth by the Halakhah (law) of Rabbinic Judaism realize the corresponding norms of conviction defined by the Aggadah (lore) of that same Judaism, so that the covenant is acted out, embodied in the social order of the Israelite community: “a kingdom of priests and a holy people.”

All the translations are my own. The theological systematization of the Halakhah and the Aggadah derives from extensive work of mine, which I digest in these pages. Specifically, for my picture of the theology of the Aggadah I rely upon the following:

The Theology of the Oral Torah. Revealing the Justice of God. Kingston and
Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 1999.

1 London: SCM Press, 1977, xvii+627.

-vii-

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